Plans are afoot to expand Little Tokyo with a Cultural Marketplace and mixed-use project flanking the traditional heart of the district.

The proposed marketplace would cover what is now a parking lot bounded by Second, Third, Los Angeles and San Pedro streets.

"It would be in a perfect linkage with the historic core," said Mickey Gustin, arts planner with the L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency.

The project is envisioned as a regional destination showcasing traditional and contemporary Japanese cultural forms and products. That could involve classes being held there in martial arts, shiatsu massage, bonsai gardening and Japanese cuisine. A Kyoto, Japan-based sake company has expressed interest in developing a sake museum and tasting room there. A condominium project could also be included.

The marketplace is also viewed as a means to boost business at the existing Little Tokyo shops, whose aggregate sales declined by 30 percent between 1992 and 1996.

The marketplace project would be developed under a partnership between non-profit arts groups in the area and the real estate and business sectors. It was jointly conceived by Project 180 (a New York-based philanthropic entity), the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center and the CRA.

The marketplace still must clear several hurdles before ground is broken. The site has to be acquired, a financial package must be put together, and the architect and developer must be selected.

The site's current owners Toda Construction Co. Ltd., ANA and Obayashi Corp. bought the property at the height of the market in the late 1980s, and the companies have expressed interest in either selling it at current market value or participating in its redevelopment, according to the CRA.

Job hop

Disney's loss is Universal's gain. George Garfield, who oversaw Walt Disney Co.'s corporate real estate strategy worldwide, has joined Universal Studios Inc. as head of global real estate.

As a vice president at Disney, Garfield oversaw the corporate real estate strategy of one of the world's most rapidly expanding companies. Part of his mission was to locate and secure space to accommodate that growth.

Other real estate pros have described Garfield as an astute negotiator with an outstanding grasp of the marketplace. He secured hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space for Disney in the Los Angeles area alone.

Lease deal

Catellus Development Corp. has signed Unipac Shipping Inc., a New York-based customs broker and shipping company, to a 10-year lease valued at $3.4 million in the Catellus Commerce Center in the City of Industry.

The lease is for 78,000 square feet within a 138,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility. The remaining 60,000 square feet is being built on a speculative basis.

Catellus' 90-acre Commerce Center so far has nearly 1 million square feet of industrial facilities, including build-to-suit distribution centers for Playhut Inc., Formosa Textiles, Maxus Industries and View Sonic. A 177,500-square-foot spec building is also nearly complete there.

Simon Chu of Simon Chu & Associates represented Unipac and Tom Taylor and Mike Miller of the Seeley Co. represented Catellus in the lease transaction.

Pasadena investment

City Center Retail Trust, a Chicago-based private real estate investment trust, has made its first foray into Los Angeles County with two recent building acquisitions in Pasadena.

The company bought the Exchange Block Building at 13-31 E. Colorado Blvd. in Old Town and another retail building on South Lake Avenue, said Mark Stefan, senior vice president with City Center. He declined to disclose purchase prices.

The Colorado Boulevard property has 19,500 square feet of space, with retail on the ground floor including the Mi Piaci restaurant and Pasadena Baking Co. and offices on the second floor. The seller was the Tolkin Group.

The other property, at 505 S. Lake Ave., is occupied by Eddie Bauer, Ann Taylor and Talbots stores and has 23,000 square feet of space. The seller was L & B; Realty Advisors.

Stefan said the two buildings fit City Center's focus of urban pedestrian-oriented retail.

"They're attractive because both fit the bill. We like the demographics," Stefan said. "They're on great retailing streets, in markets retailers are interested in and with strong customer demand."

City Center's portfolio includes 25 urban retail properties in 12 markets, encompassing more than 2 million square feet.

Asian buyer

Given the turmoil in the Asian financial markets, an apartment sale announced last week seems to go against the grain.

A Jakarta-based real estate investment and holding company bought the 259-unit Hampshire Place Apartments in Koreatown for $17 million. The 8-year-old building is located a block and a half north of Wilshire Boulevard and is 99.3 percent occupied.

The buyer, who requested anonymity, is seeking a safe investment haven.

"Part of what the acquisition was about was to reposition their money into a more stable market," said Thomas Thompson of Newport Beach-based American Spectrum Real Estate Services, who represented the seller, IDM Corp.

News & notes

Hollywood-based Meringoff Equities has bought a small medical building in Santa Monica from Kennedy-Wilson Inc., said Rob Langer, a partner at Meringoff. The 40,000-square-foot building is at 1304 15th St., and is 92 percent leased. Sources said the sales price was $6.3 million. Pacific Trust has sold its office building at Ohio Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard in West L.A. to the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation for more than $3 million. The building contains 20,052 square feet of offices over a level of semi-subterranean parking. Lloyd Bakan of Westmac Commercial Brokerage Co. represented Pacific Trust and Nick Christiensen of CB Richard Ellis represented the buyer. TGM Realty Corp. #20 of New York has bought the Bluffside Mirage Apartments in Studio City for $11 million. CB Richard Ellis represented both the buyer and seller. The 101-unit luxury apartment complex was built in 1991.

Staff Reporter Elizabeth Hayes can be reached at (323) 549-5225 ext. 229.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.