Developer Ira Yellin says he wants to get back to his entrepreneurial roots.

That's why he's departing his senior vice president post at Catellus Development Corp. this fall to devote his attention to his own investment/development firm, the Yellin Co.

"It's bittersweet. I had a wonderful stay with Catellus. I have great respect for them, but I wanted to go back into entrepreneurial life," he said.

Yellin has been with publicly traded Catellus for about three years. In that time, he helped lead several projects in Southern California, including plans for further development around Union Station downtown, the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego and the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, part of which was converted from design showrooms to office space. He also consulted with the Los Angeles Dodgers on possible upgrades to Dodger Stadium.

"For me, it was an interesting new exposure to problems and issues," Yellin said. "One of the things I care about is important architecture. One of the enjoyments I've had with Catellus is to work with remarkable buildings."

Throughout his stint, Yellin's own company has remained dormant. He started the Yellin Co. in 1985, and through it he acquired and renovated historical buildings downtown, notably the landmark Bradbury Building (where his office is located), the Million Dollar Theater and Grand Central Market.

He ran into financial trouble on the latter two, which sit directly across Broadway from the Bradbury Building.

When the recession drove down commercial rents during the early '90s, Yellin was unable to service his bond debt, forcing the L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency and Metropolitan Transportation Authority to restructure the debt two years ago.

Despite those problems, Grand Central Market is bustling with customers on most days and the Million Dollar Theater has just reopened. Yellin maintains that his projects have helped stem the area's slide and have been a catalyst for other downtown redevelopment. He said he looks forward to furthering his work at a time when downtown is "emerging with renewed energy."

"When I leave, I hope to focus on downtown L.A. in general and the historical core in particular," said Yellin, who plans to remain with Catellus through October to assist with the transition.

Jumping broker

Kevin Shannon has joined the parade of brokers switching companies, but this time the new employer is not Insignia/ESG but Grubb & Ellis Co.

Shannon moved last week to Grubb from the Seeley Co., where he was a managing director with the investment division. He is now a senior vice president with Grubb's investment services group.

Shannon started his real estate career with Seeley in 1982, became a partner in 1991 and has consistently been a top producer. He has brokered almost $1 billion worth of transactions in the past three years.

Another jump

There's more personnel news this week on the real estate finance front.

Tim Ballard, who was Finova Realty Capital Inc.'s regional director based in West Los Angeles, has joined with three other senior Finova alums to form a new firm, Balboa Partners.

Ballard, a managing partner, said Balboa will have offices in Newport Beach and San Francisco initially, and may eventually open one in L.A.

"We have an awful lot of clients in L.A. that we'll be working with closely," he said.

He described Balboa as a hybrid advisory firm and provider of mezzanine capital, which reduces the amount of equity a developer has to come up with to build a project.

Valencia move

Explorer Insurance has moved its headquarters from Burbank to the new $25 million Explorer Business Center in Valencia, off Interstate 5 and Highway 126.

About 400 Explorer employees now occupy 70,000 square feet of the 80,000-square-foot building, said Gregory Barsamian, with CB Richard Ellis.

Barsamian also is representing Explorer's parent company, American Assets, in leasing a second, 60,000-square-foot building at the center.

"That's the only spec, class-A space being built there," Barsamian said.

He is also looking for a sublease tenant to take over Explorer's vacated space in Burbank, on North Glen Oaks and Magnolia boulevards.

Cyber venture

Alhambra-based Propertyfirst.com Inc. last week launched an online commercial real estate service.

The service combines property listings with a buyers' database, automated property matching and the ability to post listings almost immediately.

A research team updates the database daily. The service also has a buyer-match capability that automatically notifies brokers with information about potential buyers for their listings.

"We offer a single destination where brokers can quickly post and search through listings and even perform research and forecasting, all in real time and all from their desktops," said John Stanfill, president and CEO of Propertyfirst.com and former president of CB's investment properties group.

West Hollywood acquisition

Grocery magnate Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. is buying the Geffen buildings on Sunset Boulevard, at the corner of Doheny Drive in West Hollywood, sources said.

The property includes 49,000 square feet of office space in two buildings, as well as two surface parking lots. Yucaipa plans to move its headquarters there, sources said.

The buildings were originally constructed in the 1930s by Milton Bren (father of the Irvine Co.'s Donald Bren) and were most recently occupied by Geffen Records. The property could be developed with 137,000 square feet of commercial space. The asking price was $14.8 million; the sale price was not available.

Seagram Co. Ltd.-owned Universal Music Group is selling the building as it prepares to consolidate its record labels at the Arboretum Gateway project in Santa Monica.

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

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