Santa Monica has become so popular with creative-oriented office tenants that rents there have soared beyond the reach of many looking to migrate west.

So what's a creative type to do? Move to Culver City.

The largely blue-collar, somewhat gritty Westside city may not seem like a magnet for cutting-edge Hollywood types (even though Sony Pictures Entertainment is there).

But Culver City has been attracting an increasing number of technology, entertainment and other creative tenants that find Santa Monica rents too steep or that can't find sufficient space there at any price. Average gross monthly office rents are about $2 per square foot in Culver City, at least 20 percent cheaper than comparable space in Santa Monica.

"This reminds me of Santa Monica 10 years ago. Creative tenants are beginning to view this as a good alternative and cost savings," said Ian Strano, vice president at brokerage Beitler Commercial Realty Services.

Among the speculative "creative space" conversions currently underway: The second phase of the Eric Owen Moss-designed Conjunctive Points at Hayden Avenue and National Boulevard; the 69,000-square-foot Culver Media Center at Jefferson Boulevard and Overland Avenue; and three more buildings just outside Culver City in Los Angeles that together encompass 130,000 square feet.

The conversions involve transforming circa-1940s warehouses or factories into offices featuring high "bow truss" ceilings with exposed beams, skylights, sawtooth-style roofs with clerestory windows, polished concrete floors, sandblasted wood and fiber-optic wiring.

They are revitalizing former industrial yards that had fallen by the wayside part of a broader redevelopment effort undertaken by the city in recent years that has included preservation of several historic structures, redesign of downtown traffic patterns and construction of a new City Hall.

One of the industrial building conversions, completed last spring on Washington Boulevard, was designed by architect Steven Ehrlich. The office-studio project is fully leased to entertainment and high-tech tenants, including Centropolis Effects, Sony Pictures and comedian Tracy Ullman. And unlike many of the conversions, it even includes a restaurant Industry Bar & Grill.

"Most of the tenants are Santa Monica refugees," said Greg Harless, a partner with Skye Partners, the project's co-owner. "Santa Monica's more an established location now, and for people who perceive themselves to be on the cutting edge, they want to break new ground."

Being "more established" means most old warehouse space in Santa Monica has already been converted and leased out to creative office users.

"You can't find this kind of space in Santa Monica. It's the institutional interpretation of creative space that's being built now," Strano said. "The immediate supply of warehouse buildings that could be renovated has been saturated."

Developer-landlord Frederick Smith is a Culver City pioneer, having converted 300,000 square feet of his old industrial buildings over the past decade in an area called Conjunctive Points. The buildings are 95 percent leased.

Phase two of Smith's Conjunctive Points conversion about 150,000 square feet is now under construction. Old industrial buildings on the site are being totally or partially razed to make room for surface parking, and possibly even a parking structure.

T-minus 30 Films, a TV commercial production and post-production company, has pre-leased one of the five phase-two buildings. The company expects to move there in February from its current offices in Venice and Santa Monica. In addition to the skylights and sandblasted ceilings, phase two has been designed by Moss to feature a green umbrella made of steel and glass that will go on the outside front corner.

"We were looking for what could our money buy in terms of space and location, and you get a lot for your money in Culver City," said Carol Lombard, executive producer for post production at T-minus 30.

Just east of the Culver City border in the city of L.A., three industrial buildings are being converted by their respective owners. All three have garnered interest from fast-growing start-ups and firms that want to move from traditional office buildings, said F. Ronald Rader, executive vice president with the Klabin Co., who is handling leasing for the buildings.

"They're looking because of alternatives. Some are looking because of price, some because they can't get what they want in Santa Monica, Venice or Marina del Rey," Rader said.

Unlike Conjunctive Points, those three buildings initially will be upgraded to high-end industrial space and, if a creative office tenant expresses interest, they would be further upgraded to accommodate that tenant, Rader said. "We think there's a market in between the industrial and Fred Smith (Conjunctive Points)," he said.

Yet another conversion project currently underway is Culver Media Center, located farther south on a tree-lined, less-industrial stretch of Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City, said Richard Abbitt, president of Lee & Associates, broker for that project. That complex is owned by Treton Property LLC.

Some Westside brokers predict that creative-office conversions will increasingly extend into heavy industrial sections of the Culver City area.

"The new users will push out the machine shops and industrial users who can't afford 75 cents or $1 a square foot. Those people will move to Gardena," Rader said.

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