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Firm Brings Experience to Bear on Variety of Projects

There’s a new name in Los Angeles-area urban development these days.

Actually, Urban Partners LLC may be new in name, but it’s made up of three real estate pros who are hardly neophytes in the business Ira Yellin, most recently with Catellus Development Corp., Daniel Rosenfeld, from the brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle, and Paul Keller of Keller CMS Inc., a developer services, construction management and consulting firm.

Earlier this year, the three formed Urban Partners, headquartered in the elegant Bradbury Building in the heart of downtown, and are now starting to become more visible.

Urban Partners has submitted a proposal for a $70 million, mixed-use development on a 3.5-acre parcel adjacent to the future Pasadena Blue Line station site on Del Mar Boulevard. They are also developing the 1,100-acre Ormond Beach project in Oxnard, which will include housing, a university and commercial component. And they are developing an industrial-distribution project in Fontana.

Closer in, the firm is actively scouting around downtown L.A. for new development and redevelopment opportunities, with an eye toward doing residential projects. Yellin said they have several offers on the table, but nothing they can discuss quite yet.

“We really think L.A.’s on the verge of exploding again with renewed energy and economic life.” Yellin said.

There’s also a huge opportunity to develop near transit lines, especially as the region’s population explodes, Yellin said.

Added Rosenfeld: “With the Blue Line, we have a chance to set a new standard for transit-oriented development.”

Yellin brought the three together after he left Catellus last fall to return to being an entrepreneur with his own investment and development firm, the Yellin Co. He started that firm in the mid-1980s and acquired and renovated several historic buildings downtown, including the Bradbury Building, Grand Central Market and Million Dollar Theater.

Yellin met Keller several years ago when the two were retained by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to help plan the new cathedral. And Yellin and Rosenfeld were also long acquainted through various activities.

“We decided we (three) complement each other well,” Yellin said. “We have similar values, a mutual deep belief in and commitment to the city of L.A. and the opportunities it represents, and we share a desire to be part of what’s happening in the center of the city.”

Yellin said the new firm has “strong financial resources,” including institutional partners, investment funds and wealthy individuals, and is small enough to move quickly.

Keller has nearly 25 years of experience in the real estate and construction industries, with Keller Equity Group Inc., Keller CMS and Keller Construction Co. Separate from Urban Partners, he is developing the planned, 600-acre RiverPark in Oxnard, comprising 2.3 million square feet of commercial uses and 2,300 residential units.

Rosenfeld started his real estate career in 1979 with the Cadillac Fairview Corp., where he developed more than 2 million square feet of industrial and office space. He then served as regional partner for Tishman/Speyer Properties in Frankfurt, Germany.

In 1992, Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Rosenfeld to inventory, plan and consolidate some 18,000 state-owned properties. Rosenfeld later established a similar asset management program for the city of Los Angeles. Before joining Urban Partners, he was a senior vice president with Jones Lang LaSalle.

Mart Sale in the Works

The Hertz Investment Group, which has made its mark acquiring and restoring historical but beleaguered properties, is under contract to buy the CaliforniaMart.

Hertz is paying about $90 million for the 2.2 million-square-foot mart, which has 1,200 showrooms, sources said.

Equitable Life Assurance Society of the U.S. is selling the mart as part of its continuing divestiture of real estate holdings. Carl Muhlstein of Cushman Realty Corp., who is handling the sale, declined comment.

Other buildings in the Hertz portfolio include the Wiltern Theatre, Standard Oil Building and California Jewelry Mart.

Long Beach Deal

Shoreline Village in Long Beach which went from mostly vacant and in sorry shape a few years ago, to fully leased and fixed up has new owners.

Gateway Enterprises LLC and Aba Enterprises LLC bought the restaurant and retail project recently for $11.25 million from Northwestern Mutual Life.

The 70,000-square-foot project on Shoreline Drive near Pine Avenue was built in the early 1980s on a ground lease with the city, but hit hard times in the 1990s, following the closure of one of its major tenants, the Mardi Gras restaurant (owned by Red Onion). Northwestern Mutual took possession of Shoreline through foreclosure in 1994, when it was 40 percent vacant and suffering from deferred maintenance.

“It was going downhill,” said Vince Abe, development project manager with the city.

The city made the ground-lease terms more favorable to attract prospective buyers and Northwestern Mutual invested more than $3 million to renovate the buildings. Tenants now include the Yard House restaurant, which has 250 beers on tap, Parker’s Lighthouse and Tequila Jack’s, as well as various shops. Total revenues for Shoreline are projected to be $22 million for this year, Abe said.

The new owners, who also have retail and apartment properties in Marina del Rey, apparently don’t have any plans for major changes. “They want to maintain what they have and refine it,” Abe said.

Culver City Action

Medschool.com leased 26,000 square feet at developer Frederick Smith’s building at 8520 National Blvd., a warehouse conversion designed by Eric Owen Moss. Medschool, which produces and aggregates medical education content online, is moving from Santa Monica.

The six-year lease is valued in excess of $4.5 million. David Toomey, Steve Seinfeld and Brian Davies at Cresa Partners represented Medschool and Ian Strano of First Property Realty Corp. represented the landlord.

Smith also recently purchased the 90,000-square-foot UCLA bookstore site on Hayden Avenue from the university. He plans to demolish the existing, 60,000-square-foot building and replace it with a new 150,000-square-foot building.

Elizabeth Hayes can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 229, or at ehayes@labusinessjournal.com.

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