Shopkeepers fear that new owner means big change


Hundreds of residents have protested change to the Point Dume Plaza in an online petition started by a Malibu High School student.

By Max Taves / Special to the Times

An empty kiosk has become an ever present and ominous symbol for store owners at the Point Dume Plaza, a familiar shopping center and office building in western Malibu. Empty for the past five months, no new stores have filled the vacant space, but not for a lack of interest.

Celeste Ferrier’s shop, Salon Eco, lies directly behind the kiosk.

“Tons of people have been interested in renting it, but the management company hasn’t returned their calls. Doesn’t that strike you as unusual?” Ferrier asked.

Mario Vitale, co-owner of local bar, the Dume Room, wanted to convert the kiosk into a fruit drink stand, but he said management “was not interested.”

Of course, a kiosk is not the only reason store owners are worried.

Leases have lapsed. Fees have been doubled. Incorrect bills have been sent. And calls to management have gone unreturned.

The virtual silence of the management company, Transwestern Property, and the near invisibility of the owner, Zan Marquis of Marquis Property, has compounded anxiety.

Store owners and employees spoke at length to The Malibu Times, but few agreed to speak on the record for fear of harm to their businesses.

Many shops’ leases ended several months ago and owners operate their businesses with little security beyond a monthly contract. These owners could face considerable hikes in rent, as the plaza is not bound by a long-term contract.

Among those shops whose leases have not lapsed, nearly all are scheduled to end this summer. Most owners of these stores spoke of unreturned phone calls and others complained about vague assurances from management.

Nearly all shop owners interviewed expressed dissatisfaction with the 100 percent increase in common area fees and wondered where and when improvements would be visible on the property.

Property manager Linda Kight did not return a request for an interview.

The consequence of these developments has been uncertainty, frustration and rampant speculation among store owners, employees and customers.

“I think it’s fair to say there’s an information vacuum at the moment, and bad news always fills a vacuum,” Jim Ferrier, co-owner of Salon Eco, said. “So there’s a lot of speculation and I don’t know whether it’s founded or unfounded.”

Many store owners trace this uncertainty to the transfer of ownership last year from Jerry Preston, the current owner of Cooke’s market, to Zan Marquis for approximately $24 million. No other shop owner besides Preston recalls meeting Marquis and few know his name. A web of Delaware and Nevada-based corporations has given Marquis virtual insulation from tenants’ frustrations.

While Marquis has kept a low profile at the plaza, he actively shares his personal hobbies, conservative political ideology and business strategy online. On one real estate Web site, Marquis likens making deals in real estate to going into battle. Marquis made waves in Seattle in the late 1990s when he remade a factory outlet shopping center into a giant indoor adventure dome replete with kayaks, rock climbing and horses.

Few expect an adventure dome in Malibu, but rumors of large-scale structural changes and hyper-gentrification abound. Some store owners expect high-end chain stores and expensive boutiques to push out long-established Malibu businesses, while others expect prohibitively expensive rents.

Vitale’s Dume Room opened in the early 1970s and is among many stores whose future remains uncertain. Despite rumors of change, he has not made plans to move.

“I want to keep the bar in Malibu. If they don’t give me a lease, I don’t where I’d go,” he said. “That’s the problem. It’s been there 35 years, it deserves to be there another 35 years.”

The popularity of an online petition started by Miles Harper, a 15-year-old Malibu High School student, reveals the extent to which Malibu residents oppose large changes at the plaza. The petition has collected hundreds of signatures, which Harper hopes to use to lobby the Planning Commission.

“I support this petition. Malibu has already been stripped of enough of the things that make it, MALIBU,” one supporter wrote online. “How much more can be changed, taken and made into some track-style community before someone with the money and power over this wakes up and realizes that they just obliterated what makes this place worthy of the name Malibu.”

City records show that the Point Dume Plaza has not submitted a request for building permits; however, sources within the city told the Times that an expediter, Marissa Coughlan, a Malibu resident, has been hired by the plaza. Coughlan did not return a request for an interview. The scope of forthcoming changes at the plaza remains unknown.