Diamond Jamboree’s expansion: 11 stores, 500 parking spaces coming to popular Irvine shopping center

The Orange County Register

October 1, 2018

It’s a problem many shopping center operators can only wish for: Diamond Jamboree is again trying to fix its legendary parking problems.

That fix, adding 500 parking spots, will also add 11 more shops to the popular Asian-themed retail hub in Irvine.

Diamond Development Group, the center’s San Gabriel-based owners, earlier this year won city approval to build a six-story addition, which includes the new parking. The structure will integrate shopping on the first two floors. If all goes to plan, the expansion will open in early 2020.

I’m a fan of this place. It isn’t the typical shopping venue in the all-too-predictable Irvine suburbia.

The center at the corner of Alton and Jamboree is the heart of a quickly evolving slice of Orange County urban living. It’s lively with a clientele that skews youthful and well-to-do. And many merchants stay open late, a novelty in much of south Orange County.

“This is a phenomenal chance to help out the neighborhood and create business opportunity,” says Joe Collier, director of development of the center’s owner.

The 1.74-acre expansion site is just west of the existing center. The building, designed by KTGY Architecture of Irvine, will add a mix of dining and shopping. Collier notes restaurants are a winner in an otherwise challenging environment for traditional merchants. He hints at what the long-term future may hold: All 11 retail spaces will be wired and plumbed for eateries.

And while Diamond Jamboree has no store leases yet for the expansion, Collier says one of the biggest changes coming — other than the growing size — is finding non-Asian flavors.

The center is courting so-called “fusion” options — mixing traditional Asian cooking with other cuisines. Collier also wants to add a large gastropub or the like to further fuel the center’s reputation as a community gathering spot.

Even the “old” part of the center sees changes that speak to changing consumer tastes. New tenants include an e-sports lounge — yes, some people get off their couch to go to the mall to play video games — and a massage chair store.

“It’s all about the experience,” says Collier, repeating what’s become the industry mantra for survival when online shopping’s hammering old-line retailers.

The center’s distinctiveness — and its success — can be tied to its ownership. This isn’t simply one asset in a national portfolio of outlets owned by a real estate giant.

Diamond Jamboree is run by a modestly sized family business led by Alethea Hsu, who also works as a hospital administrator. Diamond Development also has had a hand in creating Victoria Square in Rancho Cucamonga; San Marino Square in San Marino; and Diamond Plaza Shopping Center in Rowland Heights.

It took gutsy and out-of-the-big-box thinking to open a shopping center amid recessionary times in November 2008. But Diamond Jamboree’s debut was oddly good timing.

The center created a modern hub for Asian-themed dining and shopping — a solid match for Irvine’s fast-growing Asian population.

At the opening, the surrounding neighborhood was largely low-rise industrial buildings. Today’s real estate boom is transforming the community with mid-rise apartment living, That density is a huge and very walkable advantage for the center’s future.

And while the facility is known for food, it also has roughly the same amount of space devoted to offices, primarily on its second story.

Of course, there’s that parking thing.

As the center’s popularity grew, parking headaches erupted. A spot-sharing deal with a neighboring church and the addition of a parking structure made a modest dent in a driver’s challenge.

But the expansion created another juggling act as mixing parking and retail into one structure isn’t that simple, says KTGY architect Michael Tseng. “The challenge was how to make it function as one unit and look like one, too,” he says.

Collier insists the expansion — boosting the existing 745 spaces by two-thirds — should fix the parking annoyance. As someone who’s hunted for spots at Diamond Jamboree before, I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude.

But Collier’s correct about the parking hassles in a period where numerous malls suffer from declining crowds: “It’s not a bad problem to have to solve.”