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Spotlight

By JEANNETTE DESANTIS Contributing Reporter It began as a dusty horse ranch owned by movie mogul Harry Warner, but nearly 50 years later the area now known as Warner Center has become one of the most concentrated business districts in Southern California. The 1.5-square-mile stretch of sleek office towers, campus-like grounds and pedestrian trails is the corporate address of Health Net, Rocketdyne (now a division of Boeing North America), Litton Industries, 20th Century Industries and EMI Music Group. “In terms of the environment and the amenities, Warner Center is a dream come true,” said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick. “It is one of the most advanced, state-of-the-art business communities in Southern California.” Although L.A. officials have long used such glowing terms to describe Warner Center, the district is only beginning to recover from some very hard times. In the early 1990s, it was the home of one of the most disastrous stories in L.A. real estate. The swank Plaza III office tower was built in 1991 and hit the market just as the recession did. Until late 1994, the 25-story building, which holds 585,000 square feet of space, stood completely empty. It is just now slowly being leased out, and currently has a dozen tenants taking up four floors. “That building makes up 10 percent of the vacancy rate in the West Valley,” said Bob Pearson, leasing manager for Warner Center Properties, a brokerage that handles leasing for 2.3 million square feet of office space in the center including Plaza III. Still, there is evidence of a real estate rebound. Last year, Warner Center which is bounded by Vanowen Street on the north, DeSoto Street to the east, the Ventura Freeway on the south and Topanga Canyon Boulevard to the west was the site of one of the biggest San Fernando Valley real estate deals since the recession when 12 buildings sold to CarrAmerica Realty Group for $52 million. The seller in the mostly cash deal was the Voit Cos., which developed most of Warner Center and still maintains its headquarters there. “Warner Center is the place to be for an urban environment,” said Pearson, who places the center’s overall vacancy rate at 14 percent. “People are moving from the Westside to the West Valley and want to work closer to home.” The area is also beginning to draw some much-sought-after entertainment industry tenants. In July, Ray-Art Studios converted a Warner Center warehouse into a sound stage and moved its headquarters there from Westwood. Ray-Art recently signed a five-year lease with 20th Century Fox Television, which is using the Warner Center stage to film “Nothing Sacred” for ABC and “413 Hope Street” for NBC, two shows that will debut this fall. “There is a good civilian support center here,” said studio co-owner Robert Papazian. “If people come in for the show there is the movie theater, the hotels. If the crew might want to go out to eat, there are restaurants that are just walking distance away.” In 1977, Warner Center’s first business park was built, and four years later the first highrise was built at Warner Center Plaza. To date, Warner Center contains some 15 million square feet of office space and it has room for growth. The Warner Center specific plan, approved in June 1993, envisions a total of 35.7 million square feet of commercial and industrial office space in the next 20 to 30 years. Local malls are thriving. Topanga Plaza mall, which houses Nordstrom and Robinsons-May, is currently 99 percent leased. Mall General Manager Jim Bess said Topanga Plaza expects to bring in $280 million in sales this year, 6 percent more than last year. On top of that, there is a high demand for space. “We could lease more space if we had it,” Bess said. “We would like to have another high-end department store to complement the ones we have and maybe bring in a Williams Sonoma or a Pottery Barn.” But one key ingredient to a successful business center mass transportation is still nowhere in sight. Although the Southern California Regional Rail Association owns railroad tracks along Canoga Avenue between the Chatsworth Metrolink station and Warner Center, there is little chance that transit trains might soon connect Warner Center to other parts of the city any time soon, because local and federal government officials are concentrating their attention (and funds) on the East Valley. So Warner Center commuters make do with MTA bus lines from the Conejo, Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys, one of the largest vanpool fleets in the country, and propane-powered DASH shuttles that circle more than two dozen stops in Warner Center during lunchtime. There are also plans in the next few months to create a temporary transit hub that would centralize all of the transportation services available at Warner Center. Meanwhile, business leaders are trying to come up with a new tool to market the center breaking away from the community of Woodland Hills. Brad Rosenheim, executive director of the Warner Center Business Association, is seeking to convince L.A. officials to designate Warner Center as a community unto itself. The move would have little impact other than changing mailing addresses, but would give Warner Center a greater sense of identity, Rosenheim said. “We are in competition with all the other communities for business,” Rosenheim said. “It is hard sometimes to explain to people looking to relocate their businesses here that we are really a regional center inside of the community of Woodland Hills, which is part of the city of Los Angeles.” Rosenheim has yet to convince city officials that such a move would be desirable. Chick says she is skeptical of name changes, “but I am still interested in what the community has to say. I am willing to do just about anything to help Warner Center thrive, but I just don’t understand how a name change helps that happen.” Warner Center bustles with 40,000 employees during the week and remains relatively busy on weekends. While there are no single family homes, approximately 8,000 or 9,000 residents live in condominiums and apartment complexes located its outskirts. Those numbers are boosted during the weekend by the thousands of visitors attracted to the two shopping centers, the Promenade at Woodland Hills, which houses the year-old AMC 16 Theaters and draws an estimated 1.5 million people a year, and Topanga Plaza. Another weekend attraction is the Sunday afternoon Concerts in the Park program at Warner Park, the site of free concerts for the last 22 years on every Sunday of summer. The 20-acre park, also once part of Warner family horse ranch in the ’40s and ’50s, was donated to the city of Los Angeles in 1967 by the Warner family, with the clause that it only be used for “passive, cultural pursuits.” “There is a real vitality that has always been there for Warner Center,” said Chick. “Now with the economy turning around I have great expectations that Warner Center will be full or overflowing with exciting new projects in the near future.”

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