Attorney Ken Gibbs wears a pair of sound-screening headphones at work in his Century City office. A thick, noise-absorbing Palomar sheet blurs the view from the 34th floor.
It’s not that his ears are ultra-sensitive. It’s just that the incessant din from the dismantling of the former Shubert Theater complex below his window can be deafening. Nothing the landlord has provided, including the $300 Bose headphones and the sheets, has muffled it.
“We have gritted our teeth through this thing,” said Gibbs, a senior partner in Gibbs Giden Locher & Turner LLP. “Nobody is happy.”
The property manager, Trammell Crow Co., has had its hands full soothing tenants’ nerves. It manages the buildings on either side of the construction project the former ABC Entertainment Center and Shubert Theater, which will soon give way to Century City’s newest high-rise complex at 2000 Avenue of the Stars.
The hitch: Trammell Crow is also in charge of the construction. It is employed by two separate funds overseen by JP Morgan Chase & Co. one owning the twin Century City Towers, and the other the construction site.
Trammell has walked a fine line between accommodating existing tenants many of them law firms and keeping the complicated construction project on track.
Brad Cox, Trammell Crow’s principal in charge of leasing the towers and the building that will rise across from them, declined to discuss the noise issues or individual leases. But he denied that construction is having an impact on the ability to cut deals.
Like elsewhere on the Westside, leasing activity has been strong, Cox said. “Existing tenants are expanding and renewing their leases,” he said. “It’s the strongest net lease activity in the last three years.”
Nevertheless, the noise has kept Trammell managers busy. Besides offering to pay half the cost of buying and installing the sheets and the headphones, the company has offered tenants the use of vacant office space in the buildings until the construction is complete, several tenants said.
Tenants complain that at most, the plastic window coverings block 20 percent of the noise. While the headphones perform much better, workers cannot wear them during phone conversations or meetings.
“We still hear it,” said Arthur F. Silbergeld, an attorney at Proskauer Rose LLP, which occupies the 34th floor of the south tower. “(Trammell Crow has) tried to address the problem but nothing has really worked. I don’t know there’s much more that can be done.”
Karey McLeod, a principal at A.C. Martin Partners Inc., which isn’t working on the 2000 Avenue of the Stars project, said the setting of the construction site, encircled by tall buildings, could be making the noise worse.
“You have hard surfaces in almost every direction so noise is refracted and reflected like light,” he said. “In terms of amplification, it won’t necessarily be louder than the original source, but in terms of resonance, one sound wave hitting another hard surface creates a ripple effect.”
Some firms in the silver-colored twin towers at 2049 and 2029 Century Park East have taken matters into their own hands. A number of lavishly outfitted conference rooms and offices facing west, the side looking out upon the construction site, have been abandoned for unoccupied space on the opposite sides of the buildings.
Some firms have shoehorned workers into doubled-up, yet quieter east-facing offices. To escape the nose at its peak, a few firms have sent their employees home to work.
“It’s been very disruptive during conference calls and meetings,” said Mario Camara, a partner at real estate firm Cox Castle & Nicholson LLP on the 28th floor of the south tower. “The rest of the time it’s just annoying.”
Wearing the headphones, while an effective means of blocking out noise, isn’t necessarily conducive for Gibbs, either. “You can wear them while you’re sitting at your computer or writing at your desk, but you can’t have them on during a phone call,” he said. “And as an attorney I’m on the phone most of the day.”
Implosion not possible
The complaints are coming before construction has even begun in earnest. The existing low-rise buildings that occupied the site are still being dismantled.
To make way for the 790,000 square foot edifice, Trammell Crow was not able to implode the existing building because of the proximity of nearby office towers and because the twin high-rises share a common six-level, 6,000-spot underground parking garage. The garage, which spans nearly the entire 14-acre site, had to remain open to serve the 5,000 employees who commute to the towers.
Heavy machinery equipped with jackhammer instruments were brought in and, beginning in March, started tearing apart concrete and steel. Simultaneously, cranes and construction crews have begun breaking apart and removing debris.
The byproduct, as with most every construction site, is an unending stream of low-pitched rumbling, thumping and banging.
Making matters worse, construction is permitted only on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. the result of a compromise between Trammell Crow, residents in the surrounding neighborhoods and nearby businesses.
Besides concentrating construction noise during the workday, the compromise stretches out the length of the demolition, which is running on time but not scheduled to conclude until the first week of January. After that, construction will begin on the new building, which is scheduled to open in October 2006.
Construction is also beginning to have a financial impact for the building’s owners, said several commercial brokers and tenants.
Vacancy in the towers is pegged at about 12 percent, lower than the average 19 percent rate in Century City but higher than normal for the prestigious address. As leases begin to expire, some tenants said Trammell Crow has given them breaks on rent and extra tenant improvement concessions to make up for the construction inconveniences.
At one time Gibbs, whose firm specializes in construction litigation, said he called around to a few law firms to inquire if they would consider joining on a lawsuit, but he said interest was low.
One of those attorneys was Camara, who said he felt proving monetary damages would have been difficult.
“You hear a lot of grumbling from tenants, but can they prove they suffered decreased earnings potential?” he asked. “That’s hard to do and it’s risky to get a court to agree harm was caused. It’s not like anything they are doing is illegal or violating any of their permits.”