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Struggling Downtown Plaza gets new owners – can they turn it around?

It’s official: Westfield Downtown Plaza has a new owner – San Francisco-based real estate investment company JMA Ventures.

“I’m absolutely excited about it,” Downtown Sacramento Partnership Executive Director Michael Ault said Wednesday.

Todd Chapman, president and CEO of JMA Ventures, announced Wednesday morning that the company purchased Downtown Plaza for an undisclosed amount.

Downtown Plaza, built in 1971 and redeveloped in 1993, covers six city blocks in downtown Sacramento and currently houses 101 retail and restaurant spaces.

Ault said Downtown Plaza, which links the grid and Old Sacramento, is the largest sales tax generator in the central city.

“I think they are going to be a great partner,” Ault said. “They have quickly come to understand the importance of the plaza to the downtown and to future development.”

JMA plans to transform Downtown Plaza into an urban destination by remaking the area as a lifestyle retail and entertainment experience that can’t be found at typical suburban malls in the area, Chapman said in a press release.

Ault told Downtown Sacramento Partnership board members about the purchase in an email Tuesday.

“While JMA Ventures is not a heavy hitter in the retail industry, they have a proven track record and a broad range of management and development experience,” Ault wrote. “They are not the kind of firm that takes a cookie cutter approach, but rather will look to develop something that works for Sacramento.”

Ault said he sees the purchase as bringing “positive momentum” to the downtown business district, and he said the company appears to be “strategic” in its approach.

“They want to take a look at what exists and position the plaza as a traffic generator for the downtown,” Ault said. “They seem ready to reinvest in the city and make the center much more relevant than it has been.”

The plaza has had a few fits and starts on a sale over the past few years, and this successful deal comes with a few questions.

Tony Bizjak reports in The Sacramento Bee that Westfield, a huge international shopping center owner and builder, struggled to make the plaza work during the recession.

“Will JMA Ventures, a company with about three dozen employees and a modest retail résumé, be able to do better?” Bizjak asks.

Mayor Kevin Johnson is holding a press conference at City Hall this morning to discuss the sale of the plaza and what it holds for the future of downtown. We will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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