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Promenade 2035 Project Approved by City

Entitlements for the Westfield Promenade 2035 mixed-use complex went before a May 28 hearing of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission and received unanimous approval. In the week preceding the hearing, parent company Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield unveiled new illustrations for Promenade 2035, its 34-acre multifaceted Warner Center campus that will replace the current Westfield Promenade mall. The $1.5 billion development will include roughly 1,400 residential units (including 162 units of low-income and workforce housing), 280,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 731,500 square feet of offices and a 572-key hotel. Also, the company has proposed a 10,000-seat entertainment and sports center and a 5,655-vehicle capacity parking area. According to Westfield, the project will involve more than 10,800 construction jobs and some 9,700 permanent positions upon completion. The complex will abut Westfield’s 2016-completed outdoor mall Westfield Village to its south. Just north of the Village retail center is Westfield’s indoor mall, Westfield Topanga, which is currently going through a $250 million renovation. Different components of the Westfield Promenade 2035 project – which has gone through its share of revisions and adjustments based on community input since the proposal was submitted to the city of Los Angeles in 2016 – are being designed by architecture studios Johnson Fain, HKS Architects and Togawa Smith Martin. Modifications Key to the modification of the Promenade 2035 vision is the redesigned entertainment and sports center, which has undergone a 53 percent reduction from 300,000 square feet to 140,000 square feet; and a 45 percent reduction in height, from 155 feet to about 85 feet. The entertainment and sports center has been revised four times to date. “We’re really proud of the modified plan,” Westfield Executive Vice President Larry Green told the Business Journal. “It reflects a lot of input from the community. The dialogue was very constructive.” With the stadium’s reduction, it has eliminated the need for offsite parking as well as an earlier version’s subterranean parking underneath the stadium. Instead, the main parking area will be next to the stadium. “We’ve moved that parking out from underneath to adjacent and above grade,” Green said. “That was one of the design changes we’ve made in response to the community discussions. Green noted that the center “can accommodate parking needs on site,” adding that in December, Westfield will offer off-site parking at existing Topanga and Village lots. “One-third of the seats came out,” Green said of the 5,000 seats removed from the originally proposed 15,000-seat stadium. “It’s now much smaller; we think it’s better.” A proposed alternate venue would be an open-air sporting arena with 7,500 seats. At the Planning Commission hearing, Green talked about L.A.’s 13 entertainment venues with more than 10,000 seats, which includes the upcoming SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. Green said that the Valley deserved a well-placed entertainment arena. “We have 1.9 million Valley residents. We are tired of commuting up and over the hill to go to events,” he told the commissioners. Green also expressed pride in Westfield’s “Better Places 2030” plan – the shopping center developer’s “robust commitment to reducing car emissions and being environmental stewards,” as he described it. He singled out the 60,000 square feet of solar panels on the roofs of Westfield Topanga — home to California’s largest commercial solar installation. Affordable housing According to Green, Westfield worked with L.A. City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield — the champion of the Warner Center 2035 Specific Plan to transform Woodland Hills into the downtown district of the San Fernando Valley — to address the affordable housing crisis by revising its market-rate housing scheme to devote 15 percent of the housing developed at Promenade 2035 to low income dwellings, workforce units and what they call stakeholders apartments, designated for employees of Warner Center businesses. Located in the northwest and northeast quadrants, 5 percent of all units will be earmarked each for very low income households whose income is 50 percent of the median income; voluntary workforce housing, targeting rents affordable to such workers as teachers and firefighters; and voluntary local stakeholder incentive program for local workers. “It’s important to Bob, it’s important to a lot of people, it’s important to us,” Green said. “We had to convince some of the community leaders that it’s a good idea.” While Westfield has worked with very low income units in San Diego, “the workforce (units) is a little bit groundbreaking for L.A.,” said Green. He also discussed the more than 10 acres of green space at the mixed-use campus – 6 acres of it to be public green space. “It’s a big improvement over what’s there at the Promenade today,” said Green, whose father developed Westfield Topanga in the 1960s. “That kind of walkability continues to create a trend of people walking. I’ve been coming to Topanga my entire life. We’re seeing more people walking and that’s a good thing. Commission issues At the May 28 hearing, which had been rescheduled from March 26 because of complications due to the coronavirus lockdown, Green and land-use lawyer Cindy Starrett of Latham & Watkins addressed the Planning Commission with a 20-minute presentation outlining modifications made in the revised plan. During the appellate portion of the May 28 hearing, the project saw its critics question elements of Promenade 2035. Jeff Bornstein of Canoga Park spent his five-minute appeal time accusing Westfield of receiving “$12 million more dollars in tax relief than necessary” in addition to $35 million in incentives on its Village project a few years ago. He accused the retail entity of ducking mobility fees. “How can we trust Westfield not to manipulate the system?” he asked rhetorically. “Westfield must pay their fair share.” Christine Rowe, formerly of Woodland Hills Warner Center Neighborhood Council, opposed the stadium, lobbying for the creation of “a state-of-the-art cancer care center” instead, while Coalition of Valley Neighborhoods leader Gina Thornburg criticized the project’s affordable housing, which she feels at $2,300 monthly rent is still expensive. “We question the legality of stakeholders units,” she said. “What if they lose their jobs? What about people working from home? … We need clarity on the definition of workforce households.” Thornburg added that her coalition strongly opposes the stadium. “The entrance is too exposed to potential mayhem,” she said. She also felt that the Westfield campus showcased “a lack of center for seniors and teens. This project needs more elements to serve all members of the community, not just the wealthy few.” However, John Walker of Woodland Hills Homeowners Association gave his support to the modified plans. “We’re encouraged that they are making some increase benefit on the project especially with the downsize of the arena … (and) providing affordable housing,” Walker said. “Our issues that were raised in our appeal have now been resolved.” Starrett addressed the appellate speakers one by one, stating there was confusion on Bornstein’s part over fees paid to Westfield. “It’s over $7 million credit for existing uses of the Promenade,” she said. “That’s not unique to Westfield. … We’re paying everything we’re required to pay and more.” As for the affordable units, “the housing is voluntary. There is no public funding sought,” Starrett said. In response to Rowe, she said that Warner Center already has “extensive medical facilities in the are a — three hospitals” and that there “is no significant air quality impact” brought on by the project. With 1 million kilowatts of green energy embedded in Promenade 2035, “we’ve gone above and beyond the air quality issue,” she said. Countering Thornburg, Westfield’s attorney said that the company was abiding by Warner Center’s stakeholder housing incentive plan. “That’s really the model that we followed,” she said. “The project and program have to comply with law.” During public comments, representatives of a diverse roster of organizations and businesses, including Valley Industry & Commerce Association, the local carpenters union, and Museum of the San Fernando Valley, all voiced support for the cultural and entertainment amenities, the housing component and the prospective construction jobs created by the project. Looking forward Should the project’s timeline advance smoothly, Green said the company will begin Promenade 2035 — a 15-year, multi-phased project — in 2021 or 2022. The timing will be good, he noted, providing a much-needed economic engine post-pandemic. “It would be great to be in that position to get people back to work,” Green said. Westfield — which just re-opened its local malls, including Westfield Topanga & The Village and Westfield Valencia on June 3 with government-mandated health and safety protocols — has not seen any substantial delays in its projects due to shelter-in-place orders. “We were able to keep work continuing (at Westfield) Topanga,” Green said. Regarding the Patios, a $100 million add-on project in Santa Clarita, Green said the “investment in Valencia was slightly delayed due to our entitlement processes. When the city shut down, we lost some time during that transition that got worked out fairly quickly. We were impacted more in the Bay Area, where we were stopped from doing any more work.” Green acknowledged that Westfield needs to recalibrate before resuming construction projects full speed again. “It takes a little time for people to remobilize and get all of the procedures in place,” he said.

Michael Aushenker
Michael Aushenker
A graduate of Cornell University, Michael covers commercial real estate for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Prior to the Business Journal, Michael covered the community and entertainment beats as a staff writer for various newspapers, including the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The Palisadian-Post, The Argonaut and Acorn Newspapers. He has also freelanced for the Santa Barbara Independent, VC Reporter, Malibu Times and Los Feliz Ledger.
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