Mall Developer Rick Caruso’s Alternate Reality

New Orleans ā€” Multimillionare developer Rick Caruso is walking past the shops on Royal Street in the heart of the French Quarter, surveying the streetscape with all its architectural elegance and decay.

Little escapes the notice of the Los Angeles businessman: the ornately carved crown moldings, the wrought iron balconies, sizzling gas lanterns, cypress shutters, cracked sidewalks, leaning walls, bare wires. The place is beautiful but worn out. To Caruso, it looks like a dump.

“They certainly haven’t spent any money on maintenance,” he says. “I don’t see any reason to ever come back here again.”
As Caruso walks, his cellphone and BlackBerry buzz constantly with messages that tether him to Los Angeles. Mayor James Hahn wants to meet with him. So does City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who wants Hahn’s job. A reporter calls to discuss his latest project, an outdoor shopping center in Glendale. His office is trying to reach Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a close friend. The White House wants to know if he’s interested in a commission position. (He is, but only in his spare time.) His wife wants to talk to him about the Christmas lights on their Brentwood mansion.

Impeccably dressed in a $6,000 Brioni suit and square-toed Dolce & Gabbana oxfords, Caruso, appointed by Hahn to the Los Angeles Police Commission, takes calls and keeps moving. His entourage — among them a former amusement park architect, a Hollywood-style marketing specialist and a financier — are following close behind, watching their boss scrutinize the scenery while performing his daily ballet of multi-tasking.

At 45, Caruso is dashing, fabulously rich, politically connected and determined to reinvent one of the country’s most ubiquitous cultural icons — the mall. He has more than $1 billion in projects in the works in California and half a dozen other malls completed , including the Grove, a wildly popular amusement park-like shopping center next to the Farmers Market at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue. Caruso fought, and won, a bitter $2-million battle in September to build a similar project on Brand Boulevard near the Glendale Galleria.

These days, he’s gearing up for another fight, this time to build an outdoor mall and residential complex at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, not far from an enclosed mall owned by Westfield Group…

December 01, 2004, Los Angeles Times: