The upcoming opening of the Malibu Lumber Yard might seem to be an ordinary ribbon cutting for a fairly small shopping center.
But it represents something unusual, indeed: It will be the first new retail center in Malibu in two decades.
"I've done a lot of development all over Los Angeles, and it's like kindergarten compared to doing a development in Malibu," said Richard Weintraub, one of the developers of the retail center.
The Lumber Yard shopping center at Pacific Coast Highway and Cross Creek Road finally cleared all of the barriers and is scheduled to open April 18.
The co-developers are two Richards Weintraub and Sperber who are longtime residents of Malibu. Their vision for the mall on the site of a former lumberyard hence the name was for a hip quotient, but with family friendliness, and above all a local feel that would be a draw for the community.
But to reach their goal in development-averse Malibu, they had to take some unusual steps.
For example, they struck a deal with the city, which owns the land, to set aside 10 percent of the center's space for local shops, and to give them a discount on rent. Weintraub said these tenants could pay less than half the normal rate, which ranges from $18 to $20 a square foot per year.
Sperber and Weintraub, who signed a 54-year ground lease with the city, will pay Malibu a set amount in rent annually. Once their rental income hits $2.2 million, the city will get 30 percent of everything above that. Because the city wanted discounts for local retailers, it's willing to accept lower revenue. The rental income will go toward paying the bonds the city used to buy the land from Jerrold Perenchio of Beverly Hills a few years ago.
"It's good for the city," said Jim Thorsen, Malibu city manager. "I believe the developers have a good mix of new and local tenants, which is important to the City Council and residents."
Not everyone agrees that the Lumber Yard shopping center is good for the city.
"Some people didn't want to see the lumberyard go," Weintraub said. "It's part of the charm of an old town, to have that. But the reality is they go to Home Depot over the hill, so Malibu Lumber just couldn't compete."
Local opposition to commercial development isn't new or unprecedented. Residents long opposed Perenchio's plans for mixed-use development, saying they wanted a park or wetlands instead. Part of the site became the Lumber Yard project, and the rest will be turned into a park.
Before the Lumber Yard, the last shopping center to open was the nearby Malibu Colony Plaza in 1989, a Perenchio development.
A voter initiative passed in 2000 gives residents a right to vote on development proposals greater than 30 acres. The Lumber Yard developers didn't have to jump that hoop, since the center is only 2.7 acres.
But they did have another challenge: wastewater. Malibu wastewater is pumped through septic systems. (The city incorporated in 1991 in order to fight off Los Angeles County plans for a sewer system, which residents feared would lead to the creation of housing tracts.)
The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board ruled that the developers' initial wastewater treatment system didn't have enough capacity. So Weintraub and Sperber had to spend about eight months and $3 million to design and build a bigger, more advanced system using permeable granite. Wastewater will seep into an underground tank for on-site treatment of up to 17,000 gallons a day.
Another concern in Malibu, of course, is fire.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department took issue with rooftop plants that Sperber's landscape company had installed and insisted were fire-safe. The Fire Department disagreed; the plants were removed.
Other developers could sympathize.
Matt Fisher, president of Palisades Development Group, remembers all the hurdles his company had to clear just to build six houses in Malibu. They included getting approvals for the septic systems, making sure there weren't Chumash Indian artifacts on site, and setting up poles so neighbors could see whether the new construction would block their views.
"Malibu has its rules," Fisher said. "But once you get your arms around the rules and you follow those rules, I found the individuals to be quite fair and helpful."
But in the end, the developers of the Lumber Yard said they're pleased with the retail center, which has Malibu sensibilities.
The mall has a modern design but also feels beachy with its wooden deck and three huge saltwater aquariums in the courtyard.
"It's almost like an outdoor living room," Sperber said. "You'll be in Malibu but feel like you're on vacation while you're there."
"We worked really hard not to have the typical Rodeo Drive or Madison Avenue mix of stores," said Weintraub. "If you want Chanel, you can go to Beverly Hills. Malibu is a unique community. We tried to design for the neighborhood rather than for the whole region."
The 32,000-square-foot outdoor mall will feature a mix of local and national retailers, as well as restaurants, a hair and nail salon, and a children's dance studio.
The Lumber Yard will open with eight shops, including a large store for James Perse, an L.A. clothing brand, and Planet Blue Kids, a children's clothing store concept of the Santa Monica-based retail chain.
The other six stores are from New York: Crumbs Bake Shop; Tory Burch; Alice & Olivia; Theory; Intermix; and J.Crew, which will feature its children's brand, Crewcuts, made popular by President Obama's daughters.
Other tenants that have signed on but will open in the next few months include Maxfield, an upscale apparel boutique; Caf & #233; Habana, a bar and restaurant from local resident and nightclub owner Rande Gerber; Andrianna Shamaris, a home-goods store; and Kitson Men, a trendy apparel boutique.
All of the center's 15 spaces are either leased or have letters of intent.
Sperber, chief executive of ValleyCrest Landscape Cos. in Calabasas, and Weintraub, chief executive of Malibu's Weintraub Financial Services, a real estate development company, have been working on their $24 million center for a while. They teamed up in 2007 to form Malibu Lumber LLC.
And they're still at it. Even swapping out the old sign is a bit more involved than one might expect.
As opening day approached, the mall still featured the old lumberyard sign, a decided contrast with the stylish d & #233;cor of the shopping center.
"We're trying to get a permit to redo the sign," Sperber said. "But we're also thinking of keeping it as a cool part of history."
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