Consultants Claim Bills Go Unpaid at Sunset Millennium
By DANNY KING
Fallout from West Hollywood’s trouble-plagued Sunset Millennium development now has several firms claiming that their bills have gone unpaid by the developer who took control of the project.
A partnership of Bloomington, Ind.-based Maefield Development Corp. and Apollo Real Estate Partners purchased the Sunset Boulevard site, stretching from east of La Cienega Boulevard to west of Alta Loma Road, for $55 million in early 1999.
The $300 million project was to include a 105,000-square-foot retail complex, 370-room hotel, 250,000 square feet of office space in the renovated Playboy and Petersen Automotive buildings and an additional 100,000-square-foot office building next to the Petersen building.
At least five of the consultants hired as part of the lobbying effort said that after Apollo bought out Maefield’s interests a year ago their bills ceased being paid.
Officials from L.A.-based political consultant Burnside and Associates and public relations firm Burson-Marsteller claim to be owed $80,000 and $26,000, respectively. Public relations firm Weber Shandwick is believed to be claiming an outstanding bill of $60,000. Political lobbyist Steven Afriat is also claiming an outstanding bill. Neither Afriat nor Weber Shandwick officials would comment.
The consultants say the payments stopped when Maefield’s share of the project and lead developer role was assumed by Apollo for an undisclosed price last February, according to both Susan Burnside, president of Burnside and Associates, and Elena Stern, director of public affairs for Burson-Marsteller.
“We’ve been told for a year that they were getting around to it,” said Burnside, whose firm had performed work for the project between 1998 and early 2002. “Now you can’t get a phone call returned.”
Stern said payment problems date back to when Maefield Principal Mark Siffin left the project. “That’s when the runaround began,” said Stern, whose company performed public relations work for Maefield in late 2001 and early 2002. “We were paid nothing.”
Burnside and Stern said the firms were led to believe that Apollo would assume Maefield’s debts associated with the project.
Officials from Apollo and Maefield did not return calls.
Asked about payments due to her firm, Sydney Daley, a principal at public affairs firm Greer/Dailey/Minter, said “That matter has been amicably resolved.” She declined go into further detail.
Latham & Watkins LLP, which represented Maefield during the developer’s well-publicized battles for entitlements and billboard rights for the project, would not comment on the situation, citing client confidentiality requirements (the firm also represents Apollo, though not on the Sunset Millennium project).
Most of the consultants’ work involved lobbying efforts and media management required on a project that has seen its share of controversy.
At a city council meeting in January 2002, opponents of the project accused Siffin of paying off nearby condominium associations in exchange for support of the project. No investigation was commenced into the accusations.
Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Siffin proposed replacing the project’s centerpiece luxury hotel with a 446-unit apartment complex, angering West Hollywood officials.
The 105,000-square-foot retail complex on the project’s western end, which opened two months ago, and the 71,000-square-foot Sunset Millennium Tower (the renovated Playboy Building) remain half-empty.