After waiting two years for the economy to improve, developer BRE Properties Inc. broke ground last week on a $350 million apartment project in the up-and-coming Miracle Mile district.

Known as the Wilshire-La Brea, the project at the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue is planned for 478 units with 40,000 square feet of shops.

BRE is a San Francisco real estate investment trust that has a portfolio of nearly 80 multifamily properties in the Western United States, including 14 in Los Angeles. It bought the property for $66.5 million in 2007, received entitlements for the project and razed the existing buildings two years ago.

The property was the location of a closed Columbia Savings Bank branch that most recently had been used as a church.

Chief Executive Constance Moore said in an August earnings conference call that the decision to move forward stems partly from strong leasing activity at the company’s 248-unit apartment and retail complex only a few blocks away at 5600 Wilshire Blvd., which is 97 percent occupied.

The project also stands to benefit from an improving financial market for multifamily developments, according to Albert Shilton, senior managing director in Charles Dunn Co. Inc.’s Century City office.

“Now is the perfect time to be breaking ground and developing new product,” he said. “Money is available for construction at very favorable rates and if they can finish the project quickly, they can take advantage of permanent financing also at favorable rates.”

The 3.3-acre complex will feature barbeque pits, pools and four miniparks.

BRE declined to comment on the project.

Case Closed

Century City office space left vacated in March by the high-profile collapse of law firm Howrey LLP is about to be filled – by another law firm.

L.A.’s Glancy Binkow & Goldberg LLP is moving in and expanding its corporate headquarters after signing a five-year lease for 11,400 square feet at Watt Plaza, 1875-1925 Century Park East. The deal is valued at $2 million.

Glancy plans to move in December into the 21st-floor offices that have sat virtually untouched since Howrey moved out earlier this year, making it an easy transition for all involved.

“It was already a highly built-out law firm space,” said Travers Realty broker Jeff Mintz, who represented Glancy in the deal.

Watt Plaza, developed by Santa Monica’s Watt Cos. Inc. in the early 1980s, comprises 900,000 square feet between twin 23-story office towers. Other professional service companies such as law firm Pircher Nichols & Meeks have offices there.

Glancy, which is expanding by 1,600 square feet, is moving from its 1801 Avenue of the Stars building because landlord Westfield Group, which owns the nearby Westfield Century City mall, plans to demolish the building in about three years and build a mixed-use residential tower.

Watt was represented internally by Kathy McKay and Jamie Bergantz.

South Bay Sale

A 105-unit apartment complex in Redondo Beach has sold for $33.1 million, in one of the largest multifamily deals in the South Bay this year.

Gerding Edlen Development, a Portland, Ore., multifamily developer and investor, bought the 87,095-square-foot property, at 616 Esplanade St., from Washington, D.C.-based AvalonBay Communities Inc. earlier this month at a price of $315,238 a unit.

Only three other apartment buildings in the South Bay have sold for more per unit this year, the highest being a six-unit complex at 355 Virginia St. in El Segundo that sold for $341,667 a unit, according to CoStar Group Inc.

Built in 1974 and renovated in 2006, the Esplanade property is across the street from the ocean and only steps from the city’s popular boardwalk. It comprises studio, one- and two-bedroom units, at an average size of 829 square feet. Amenities include a swimming pool, fitness center and two laundry rooms.

Gerding Edlen plans to complete significant renovations to the building’s interior and exterior, including installing solar panels for heating water and generating some electricity.

Gerding Edlen, which owns properties along the West Coast and in Boston, has a handful of multifamily properties in Los Angeles, including the Eleven, Evo and Luma multifamily complexes in South Park. It also is developing a 70-unit apartment complex at 512 Rose Ave. in Venice.

CBRE Group Inc.’s Ray Eldridge, Tyler Anderson and Michelle Jefcoat represented both sides in the deal.

Staff reporter Jacquelyn Ryan can be reached at jryan@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 228.

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