Editor's Note: The law column item “Venerable Venable” in the August 1 issue misstated the number of attorneys the firm started its L.A. office with. There were 26 attorneys.

A lawsuit filed last week by a popular Koreatown spa and health club claims the developer who bought the historic Wilshire Galleria building for $49 million in November is illegally trying to force the business out to make room for a luxury condo and hotel project.

SKW Enterprises, the parent company of Natura Sports Health Club, sued VHDG Koreatown and Harridge Development Group of Mid-Wilshire in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging the developers are antagonizing the spa in an attempt to make it forego the remaining years on its lease. The complaint claims that unlike most other tenants at the Wilshire Galleria, Natura has refused to back out of its lease agreement, which allows it to stay on the premises until 2038.

“Faced with Natura’s long-term Lease at the Premises, the VHDG Defendants knowingly and intentionally implemented an attack upon Natura’s business to try to force Natura to vacate the Premises and allow the VHDG Defendants to move forward with VHDG’s multi-hundred-million-dollar real estate development project,” the complaint reads.

Harridge has said it plans to redevelop the historic Art Deco site – which opened as the upscale I. Magnin department store in 1939 – under the adaptive reuse ordinance as tenants reach the end of their leases. The company has filed paperwork with the city to turn the building into a 160-room hotel with two restaurants. Harridge plans to construct two new buildings on an adjacent 100,000-square-foot parking lot, one with seven stories and the other reaching between 28 and 31 stories. All told, the new buildings will house 545 luxury apartment and condos. Eleven percent of the units will be set aside for low-income housing.

Harridge Chief executive David Schwartzman said last week he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and had no comment.

Natura’s attorney, Eric Early of Mid-Wilshire-based Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae, also declined to comment.

Harridge’s plan seems to have been disrupted by Natura’s refusal to give up its lease. The spa occupies the building’s basement and several offices and has occupied space there since 1998.

Natura’s complaint claims that the developers attempted in March to kick them out of their office space by issuing notices to vacate the property within 30 days despite contractual provisions in the lease forbidding such action. The suit also claims the developers have tried to punitively raise Natura’s rent and change the terms of its parking agreement for the spa’s customers.


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