The Westwood Village revival is starting to have some casualties.
Bel Air Camera recently moved from Westwood Boulevard to Kinross Avenue after the store's new landlord jacked up the annual rent from $13,000 to $90,000, according to Frank Ponder, the store's general manager.
"He forced us out. We were a tenant for 40 years on Westwood Boulevard," Ponder said.
Ponder's former landlord, Larry Taylor's Malibu-based Christina Development Corp., has invested about $50 million to acquire properties and has hired Getty Center architect Richard Meier to do renovations. Taylor's firm currently owns 150,000 square feet of property in the Village, including almost an entire block of properties along Westwood Boulevard.
Christina Vice President Steven Fink said many properties had simply been undervalued. Under new ownership, full-market rents are being assessed.
"As the Village becomes revitalized, rental rates in the area will continue to rise," he said.
Indeed, movie theaters, restaurants and retail renovations are planned from one end of Westwood Village to the other, giving merchants hope that the once-lively shopping district will return to its charmed status of the 1970s helped along by the booming Westside office market.
Last month, the Los Angeles Planning Commission approved Ira Smedra's $106 million Village Center Westwood. The project is expected to go before the City Council this summer.
If it gets the council's green light, the Village Center would eventually add 450,000-square-feet of restaurants, stores and a movie theater at the northeast end of the village.
At the west end, Regent Properties Inc. wants to build Westwood Marketplace, a retail center with a Mann movie complex. That proposal isn't as far along in the city approval process.
Plus, Arden Realty Group Inc. plans extensive renovations to the high-rise building that houses Monty's restaurant.
Can Westwood support all that growth? Redevelopment consultant Larry Kosmont thinks it can.
"It's not so much the amount of square footage, as the type. What's missing is community uses, like a supermarket," said Kosmont, who did an economic and fiscal impact analysis on the area last year.
Westwood has too much low-end retail, such as T-shirt shops, despite its high-end demographic base, he said. It also has one of the tightest office market on the Westside.
Councilman Michael Feuer, whose district includes Westwood, also believes the projects will be complementary.
"The Village Center and Regent projects will anchor the village on the east and west and develop a critical mass of foot traffic. Larry Taylor's development of Westwood Boulevard will draw foot traffic toward the middle," Feuer said.
Smedra, whose Arba Group development company is based downtown, said all the impending development will bring Westwood back to life "in an updated version."
"All the pieces of the puzzle are there," he said. "Take the theater issue Westwood was always a very thriving theater market. Over the years, the theater business has changed and unfortunately, the theaters haven't kept abreast of the changes."
Smedra said his project, proposed three years ago, has been the catalyst to Westwood's revitalization and that the district "will die a worse death" without it.
Smedra plans a Mediterranean-style complex at Glendon Avenue that would contain a Ralph's market, Long's drug store, shops, restaurants, a 10-screen Pacific Theaters venue, underground parking and a public library. He hopes to start construction early next year.
The ripple effects of the new development, however, are likely to be rent increases and additional traffic, which has some residents up in arms.
"Mr. Smedra's project is too intense for the neighborhood," said Debra Gendel, a member of the Westwood Hills Homeowners Association. "I can't imagine how the village is going to be able to withstand that kind of additional development."
In addition to Smedra's project, Mann plans to close at least two existing theaters and build a 3,000-seat replacement theater, without a net gain of seats. Mann has seven theaters in the Village currently, said Douglas Brown, Regent Properties managing partner.
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