A San Diego-based developer will file plans this month for a project that could become the economic anchor of the $41 million redevelopment of downtown Culver City.

The project, which is the final phase of the downtown redevelopment, calls for a 125,000-square-foot entertainment/retail complex to be built on Block C now a triangular-shaped parking lot bounded by Washington, Culver and Ince boulevards. The project may extend across Ince Boulevard to encompass another parcel known as the Caplow Property.

"Our project will incorporate some of the characteristics of Old Town Pasadena and the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, but it will only be similar, not a copy," said Paul Buss, executive vice president of developer OliverMcMillan.

A large-screen IMAX-type theater is expected to be part of the project, as well as a multi-screen cineplex. The project will also include about 35,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

Mark Winogrond, Culver City's director of community development, said the developer will be submitting plans for three versions of the project, one of which the city will eventually approve.

"One version would contain the project to just Block C," he said. "The second plan would keep Ince Boulevard open, but the project would cross over the street and onto the former Murphy Buick site. The third plan would cross over Ince onto the Buick site and Ince would be closed."

A vacant showroom now sits on the Buick site, which is in the process of being purchased by the city through eminent domain. After that, it would be sold to OliverMcMillan. City officials refused to discuss the sale prices or the projected cost of the proposed complex.

Murphy Buick property owner Mark Caplow, vice president of Los Angeles-based E. M. Caplow and Associates, is less than happy with the city's decision to go with OliverMcMillan.

"We purchased the land in 1995 and signed a letter of intent with General Cinema Theaters as part of an entertainment and retail complex," Caplow said. "Within the past few weeks, the city has taken our property by eminent domain and now will only speak to us through their attorney. We want to finish what we started, but it sounds like they are more interested in a communist state."

Caplow said he intends to fight the city and "take it to the streets to let the people of Culver City know what is really going on."

Miriam Mack, administrator of the redevelopment agency, said OliverMcMillan was chosen over 10 other developers on the basis of its superior experience and contacts with the retail community. Winogrond said the work OliverMcMillan did in San Diego's Gaslamp District is similar in concept to what it is proposing for downtown Culver City.

The redevelopment of Culver City's downtown began in the late 1980s. "The community's highest priority was to recreate their once very lively downtown," Winogrond said.

As part of the revitalization effort, the city spent $7.1 million on a downtown streetscape that added wider sidewalks and rows of flowering trees with white lights strewn along their branches. Ordinances were amended to allow for outdoor dining. And the old City Hall was demolished and replaced, at a cost of $25 million.

A special grant program was established for property owners to have their store facades upgraded to match the old-town styling of the streetscape. "This resulted in every single property in downtown having restored or modernized their buildings," Winogrond said.

City officials believe the development of Block C will be the catalyst to bring shoppers and diners back into the downtown area.

"The stage has been set and we are now in the process of adding the centerpiece," Winogrond said.

A second streetscape, at a cost of $6 million, broke ground late last month on the east end of downtown. And the redevelopment agency has just entered into an exclusive agreement with the Center Theatre Group, operators of the Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theater, to convert the city-owned Culver Theater into a 450-seat live theater.

According to Winogrond, this would complement the Ivy Substation on the east end of downtown, which serves as a venue for live theater and other events. "It's been our plan to have the downtown area book-ended with performing arts facilities with films (movie theaters) in the middle. And as it stands, it all looks like that is about to happen," Winogrond said.

Another Culver City area receiving attention is the Hayden Tract a neighborhood just south of downtown near the intersection of National and Jefferson boulevards at Hayden Avenue.

The current issue of Inc. magazine identifies the Hayden Tract as one of the top four "best networked neighborhoods" in the United States.

By "best networked," Inc. means those neighborhoods most favorable for locating a small businesses or launching a company. Some of the Hayden Tract's attributes that put it on the list include its population of Web-site designers, including Digital Planet and W3-design Inc. and the Cyberstudio complex, a production facility that houses more than 50 Web-related developers.

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