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(photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — Two-and-a-half years after it closed for a $265 million renovation, Macerich Co. is re-opening Santa Monica Place today, giving shoppers in the region a new destination and bringing City Hall a needed sales tax boost.

Today’s ribbon cutting marks one of very few shopping center openings in the country this year, as most retailers remain cautious about expanding while consumers continue to watch their dollars.

“I don’t think you’ll see another property like this open in the next five years,” said Doug Roscoe, senior manager for Santa Monica Place.

Despite the weak economy, Roscoe said Macerich has high hopes for the made-over property, which will feature 540,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, including a third-story dining deck with a food court, higher-end restaurants and a gourmet market. (The dining deck will open with the mall today, but the market won’t debut until 2011).

“The economy in Santa Monica has been a little bit more resilient,” Roscoe said. “We’re not getting any kind of feeling that it’s fallen off from a merchandising standpoint. This is such a select, unique market.”

The outdoor mall, anchored by department stores Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, is 75 percent leased, Roscoe said, with a retail roster that includes a slew of high-end shops like Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton, CB2, Hugo Boss, Burberry, Barneys Co-op and Coach.

It will also feature non-luxury bands such as Nike, Hot Topic, Disney and Skechers.

Bloomingdale’s, which is occupying two floors of the former Macy’s site, is opening today, while Nordstrom is set to open Aug. 27.

Roscoe said the mall is still looking for a tenant to occupy the 45,000-square-foot third floor of the Bloomingdale’s structure but expects the property to be 85 percent leased by the end of the year.

The mall’s opening comes after community activists and the City Council opposed Macerich’s initial plan to build three 21-story residential and office buildings on the site.

While the new mall promises to draw additional traffic to Santa Monica’s already heavily congested Downtown, some local activists said the new incarnation of Santa Monica Place is a victory for residents who favor scaled-down development.

“The redo of Santa Monica Place proves that despite what developers typically claim, they can build smaller, economically viable projects. And they will, if residents continue to forcefully oppose massive traffic-clogging projects,” said Diana Gordon, co-chair of Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and a prominent critic of Macerich’s first re-development proposal.

There’s no way to know how many people will show up for the mall’s opening, but Santa Monica officials said they expect a large turnout.

Officials are urging shoppers and commuters to use Civic Center parking lots on Friday and this weekend, where all-day parking will be available for the discounted price of $5.

On Thursday afternoon, construction crews were still working on Parking Structure No. 7 at the corner of Broadway and Fourth Street, adjacent to the mall, which has been under construction for the past several months.

Don Patterson, who oversees Santa Monica’s parking operations, said the lot was expected to be open to the public by Friday morning.

For City Hall, which in June cut spending, raised fees and used reserve funds to close a $13.2 million budget gap, the opening is a welcome revenue boost.

“I think it’s going to be a very beneficial addition and a huge asset for the community,” said Carol Swindell, City Hall’s finance director.

The mall is expected to generate $2 million annually in sales tax revenue, or 6.5 percent of the $30.8 million total officials are projecting for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

The new revenue has already been included in budget projections, Swindell said, so the mall’s opening won’t generate new discretionary money.

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