Insignia/ESG Inc. has been rapidly building a global presence in real estate, but has only offered limited brokerage services here in Los Angeles.

That all changed last week when Insignia snagged two well-respected brokers from Julien J. Studley Inc. Stephen Bay and Clay Hammerstein. Two Studley broker associates also made the move, Kevin Bender and Robin Devereux.

Bay will oversee Insignia's L.A. brokerage operations, with the title of executive managing director. Hammerstein will be a senior managing director.

"I think Studley is a fantastic company. But I felt personally this was an excellent opportunity for my team and me," Bay said. "It expands my geographic market and it's a personal challenge."

Up to now, New York-based Insignia has focused on landlord representation and property management here, with a portfolio of 11 million square feet. Insignia hired the new team to build an equally dominant brokerage presence.

Bay managed Studley's downtown office since 1990 and was involved in sales transactions totaling more than 3.5 million square feet over the last five years. He represented such blue-chip firms as Oaktree Capital Management, Deloitte & Touche LLP and Sidley & Austin. Hammerstein has specialized in representing law firms during his 10-year career.

The response from the Studley side was somewhat guarded. Said Howard Sadowsky, the firm's executive vice president: "There was a difference of opinion and we decided to part ways."

Smedra blocked again

Developer Ira Smedra's Westwood Village retail-entertainment project hit another snag last week, this time from the California State Historical Resources Commission.

The commission voted to declare Glendon Manor, a 42-unit apartment building erected in 1929, eligible for listing on the new California Register of Historical Resources. Smedra intends to demolish it to make way for the entrance to an underground parking garage.

Opponents to the project say Smedra must prepare a new Environmental Impact Report on the building, which is likely to take several months.

"It's a doomed project at this point," said Laura Lake, a longtime opponent and neighborhood activist.

But Smedra said it's no big deal and won't cause a further delay. He said the EIR can be amended to include the building, and furthermore, he's appealing the decision.

"There are more significant buildings in the village," Smedra said. "(The opponents') only concern is preserving a disastrous situation in the village, not the buildings."

The $110 million project has hit several delays and snags in recent months.

More Smedra

Smedra also is in escrow to acquire the largest single parcel of land in North Hollywood the long-depressed Valley Plaza shopping center, according to local real estate sources.

The 5.6-acre parcel, the site of a J.C. Penney store that has been closed since the Northridge earthquake in 1994, is among some 30 individually owned sites in the center. Alone, it is probably not enough to give Valley Plaza, located at Victory and Laurel Canyon boulevards, a badly needed facelift, but brokers said it could help jump-start a neighborhood that's long been neglected.

"What he'll do is, he'll bring some energy to it," said Mathew May, a partner with Madison Partners in Santa Monica, who tried several years ago to arrange a redevelopment deal for the center. "There's plenty of tenants that want to be in the marketplace."

Smedra denied reports that his company, Arba Group, is in escrow to acquire the property. However, other sources close to the project say that a sale is imminent, and that Smedra plans to demolish the Penney building and redevelop it for big-box retailing or entertainment uses.

Insurers move inland

The Gateway Corporate Center in Diamond Bar is catching on with insurance firms.

First, the Travelers Group announced it would relocate its property-casualty division there, occupying a new 85,000-square-foot office building. And now, Allstate Insurance Co. has announced it will lease regional offices in the center.

Opus West Corp. will construct Allstate's office building, which will be ready for occupancy by next October.

Travelers plans to move 350 employees to Gateway and Allstate will move 400, both from Brea.

The Corporate Center is a 255-acre, master-planned business park off the 57/60 freeways being developed by Trammell Crow Co. Other tenants in the park include Kelley-Clark Inc., Trumpet Software International, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Diamond Bar's City Hall and a newly renovated Holiday Inn Select. There are still about five vacant lots remaining.

Diamond Bar Deputy City Manager Jim DeStefano said the recent interest in the center is due to the city's aggressive marketing activities and ability to assist potential businesses with the recently formed Redevelopment Agency.

The agency gave nearly $2 million (which it expects to recoup more than five times over the life of the project) to assist in purchasing the land for the Travelers Group building, said Mike Nelson, the city's director of communications.

Staff reporter Shelly Garcia contributed to this report. Elizabeth Hayes can be reached at (323) 549-5225 ext. 229.

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