Woodbridge center renewal
A family could easily spend an entire day there, between the discount movie theater, Ruby’s Diner, Barnes & Noble, a candy shop, the old-school toy store and the play area. Not to mention the extra curricular enrichment available there, including music and art lessons, classes at Kumon Math and Reading Center, and more.
Though still popular with Woodbridge locals and families, in recent years the center has started looking a tad tired. Low rent, even. If there’s one thing folks in Irvine know, it’s that the best-known landlord in town doesn’t do low rent.
Soon, the word was out (accurate or not) that the owner planned to knock the center down and put in housing, or a mixed-use project with retail and apartments. A community group soon formed to protest any such moves. Fortunately, before anyone had to chain themselves to bulldozers, a $30 million play was published that would save the local center while improving and revitalizing it.
The basic infrastructure of that improvement opened in recent weeks, though locals will have to wait for more of the new restaurants and amenities to debut in coming months to really gauge the changes.
The biggest change is the removal of a central two-story building, which opens up the entire center in an attractive way. Yes, that’s right: the landlord reduced the rentable square footage at the center by some 15,000 square feet! We assume that means the remaining space is no longer low rent, actually or metaphorically. Which could be why a few old favorites vacated before the remodel, including the candy/shave ice spot and the toy store. Kids will miss them, but they both had seen better days.
Overall, the new design is quite lovely, with new paint scheme throughout, lighting, and landscaping. There are now views of the lake from a variety of new vantage points and seating areas with Adirondack chairs, sofas and tables in the area dubbed the Front Porch. The children’s play area is improved, including a key addition to be named later (literally!).
CorePower Yoga has moved to the other side of the center, and Focus Dance Center made the move from its former space at the UCI-adjacent University Center, which is also undergoing a refresh (and arguably rivals Woodbridge Village Center as Irvine’s most family-friendly shopping space of the 21st century). The new location is 12,000 square feet, and offers some 250 classes in all forms of dance and movement.
The major new tenant that’s already open is Grocery Outlet, which fills the space most recently occupied by Assi Natural Market, the so-called “Asian Whole Foods” which didn’t last long at the center. The new market’s name is to be taken literally: it’s an outlet store to search for bargains on staples, produce and alcohol for savvy and price-conscious shoppers, or so insiders say, and less a go-to regular market.
Locals should anticipate with excitement the opening of other restaurants coming to Woodbridge Village Center, including Sessions West Coast Deli, offering a surfer-centric take on artisanal sandwiches, salads and breakfast burritos; The Lost Bean, an organic/gourmet coffee shop with a laudably sustainable business model; and The Pizza Press, which joins the assembly-line pizza parlors already ubiquitous in Irvine. We will admit to favoring The Pizza Press, however, thanks to its newspaper-named menu items and branding, plus an adventurous craft beer menu that sets it apart from some of the others.
The only true disappointment so far at the new center is the demise of the dollar movie theater. In the good old days (say a few months ago) one could bring the whole family to see a fairly recent film no longer in the theaters, pay $2 per ticket ($1 on Tuesdays, if memory serves, and more for 3D), buy some popcorn and candy and get out without breaking the bank.
It’s no longer so. The movies are now first-run, and prices are up in the $6.99 range, with $4.99 for matinees and kids 12 and under. Which wouldn’t be bad if they’d updated the theater, but it’s the same sticky-seat place that was perfectly fine when a family could go out to the movies and spend less than a premium hamburger costs these days.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the key addition to be named later? It’s a new friend for Woody and Bridget, the large play area frogs that generations of kids have climbed on. There’s now a third big frog, and it needs a name. There’s a contest to give it one, now through March 2, with the prize a $500 American Express gift card. Our entry, unofficial though it is, is Barranca. What can we say—Irv is already taken.
Enter the contest at shopirvinecompany.com/woodbridgefrogs