Projects Move Forward on Westwood's 'Golden Mile'

By DANNY KING
Staff Reporter

Reflecting a hot real estate market and still-low interest rates, Wilshire Boulevard's "Golden Mile" could be on the verge of its biggest growth spurt in more than a decade.

All told, four projects totaling 266 residential units are in various stages of development along the nine-block stretch in Westwood.

The most recent activity involves plans to develop a 119-unit condominium complex on Wilshire Boulevard between Malcolm and Selby avenues in Westwood site of the three-story Century Wilshire Hotel.

California Landmark Development has entered into an agreement with the longtime owner of the European-style hotel and has hired Nadel Architects Inc. to design a 24-story, 119-unit condominium complex that's entitled for the site.

Last month, the Los Angeles City Planning Department released a notice of preparation for the project, dubbed Century Landmark Condominium Project. This marks the first step in obtaining an environmental impact report for the 35,000-square-foot site.

"There is a contract between us and the existing ownership," said Ken Kahan, chief executive of Los Angeles-based California Landmark, referring to Century Wilshire Inc. "This is a long-term plan to develop the site."

A half-block west of the Century Wilshire, California Landmark and Chicago-based private developer Fifield Cos. are developing a 93-unit condominium complex at the southwest corner of Wilshire and Malcolm. The project is scheduled for completion in 2005.

Kahan would not disclose whether his company was buying the Century Wilshire site and noted that the involvement of Fifield was "to be determined."

Meanwhile, about a mile east, Fifield is buying the half-acre empty lot at the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Comstock Avenue from winemaker and studio operator George Rosenthal for about $12 million, according to a source close to the deal.

The site, which borders the Los Angeles Country Club and is commonly known as "the Pumpkin Patch" because of its use for pumpkin and Christmas tree sales every October and December, is entitled for a 35-unit, 21-story tower.

Rosenthal, chairman and chief executives of Raleigh Enterprises and founder of Rosenthal Wines in Malibu, declined comment while officials at Fifield could not be reached for comment.

In addition to the Century Wilshire and Wilshire Malcolm projects, the Markowitz family, which owns Factor's Famous Deli in West Los Angeles, is breaking ground on a 19-unit residential project at the northeast corner of Wilshire and Devon Avenue early next year, according to family member Marvin Markowitz.

Three other developments totaling 305 units the Legacy at Westwood, the Venezia and the Remington have been completed in the area since 2001.

The building boom, the most intense since projects like the Blair House, the Wilshire, the Wilshire Thayer and the Mirabella were built between 1982 and 1989, is a response to the combination of a hot real estate market and low interest rates. In July, the median condominium in Westwood sold for $406,000, a 35 percent increase from two years earlier and 57 percent more than the county average, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

With construction financing available in the 5 percent range, developers are encouraged to build before rates go up, according to Richard Weintraub, who sold the Wilshire Malcolm property to California Landmark and Fifield for about $27 million in May, although he has retained a small interest in the project.

"Right now, acquisition money is so cheap," said Weintraub, president of Malibu-based Weintraub Financial Services. With the prime interest rate having dropped about 5 points within the past few years, "on a three-year, $100 million project, that's a (savings of) $15 million."

California Landmark and Fifield are also taking advantage of the ability to build above the six-story, 75-foot height limit imposed in the Wilshire-Westwood Scenic Corridor Specific Plan enacted in 1981. Like the Remington, which has sold all but six of its 93 units, both sites received entitlements before the specific plan took effect.

Inevitably, the projects will raise concerns about additional traffic in the area, especially along Wilshire Boulevard.

"Add this to the Casden project (the mixed-use Palazzo Westwood development proposed for Westwood Village) and tell me how many new car trips will be on Wilshire?" asked Sandy Brown, president of Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Association. "There are going to be a lot of new car trips in an area that can't take any more during rush hour."

Also in the minds of local residents is the real estate crash that happened after the area's previous building boom.

The Blair House at Wilshire and Warner Avenue and the Park Wilshire on Wilshire near Manning Avenue were casualties of high interest rates and oversupply. Those projects sat incomplete for years and became known as "Rusty" and "Dusty," the former a collection of steel girders and the latter a concrete frame. Other new units sat empty for years as luxury condominiums fell out of favor.

"Most of the people who buy on Wilshire are transitioning from places they've lived in for more than 20 years," said Weintraub. "If the whole market turns, Wilshire gets hit the hardest."

Still, a potential bust is of little concern for both Markowitz, who plans to rent his units, and Kahan.

"We don't believe (an oversupply of units) is an issue because of the timing of these projects," said Kahan, whose company is also developing a mixed-use project at Wilshire Boulevard and Barrington Avenue in Brentwood. "(Wilshire Malcolm) will be absorbed before the other projects are underway."

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