By JULIE SABLE
Forget the 14- or 15- screen multiplex cinema and 275,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space what area residents want on a prime Westwood Village site, according to a local residents group, are live playhouses, a public library, parkland and a children’s day care center.
The 5.2-acre site near the UCLA campus is owned by developer Ira Smedra, president of downtown L.A.-based Arba Group.
As an alternative to Smedra’s plans for theaters and shopping, the Westwood Village group released plans last week for a development that would put an emphasis on the arts and public spaces, including a small park, outdoor cafes and a central plaza.
The “Westwood Village Commons” plan proposed by the Friends of Westwood calls for a European-style market, patterned after Paris’ famous Les Halles, on the Smedra site. It would be surrounded by a theater, hotel, a Tavern on the Green-style restaurant and art galleries.
The plans also calls for redeveloping some adjacent property. For example, the Macy’s Department Store on Weyburn Avenue would be shrunk from its present 186,000-square-feet into a smaller “urban fashion unit.” Boutique-type stores would be invited to take over some of the store’s current space.
“The Commons was developed and is supported by coalition of Westwood neighborhood groups that have a vision of the Village becoming an arts and cultural center rather than a movie mall,” said Laura Lake, president of Friends of Westwood.
“A mix of private and public partnerships and the involvement of key players like nearby-UCLA, the Geffen Playhouse, the Getty Center and Federated Department Stores (Macy’s parent company) could make this a reality,” she said.
But Smedra called the plan unrealistic especially since he owns most of the land in question.
“To date we have had nearly 60 absurd suggestions for the site driving range, lawn bowling, even Laura Lake Lake” Smedra said in a statement.
“The bottom line is, she doesn’t own the property,” he said. “I suggest she purchase other available properties for sale in Westwood such as the Macy’s site.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Feuer said he liked certain elements of the Commons plan but cautioned that it all comes down to the issue of meaningful financial backing.
“The challenge is to identify ideas that in real life can and will be built,” said Feuer, who represents Westwood. “An idea in a vacuum is just that. There’s got to be a possibility of realizing this project and that clearly was not presented.”
A 21-member citizens committee appointed by Feuer has been reviewing the Westwood Village Center project. Upon suggestions from the group, Smedra has revised his plans and will present the revisions within the next few weeks.
Lake said she is hopeful that Smedra will consider the Commons as an alternative to his project.
“We would like him to meet with us and join with us to make something special and unique,” she said.