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Friday, Dec 8, 2023

Tackling ‘Downtown’?

REAL ESTATE: Hopes high that Rams owner will create a city center.

Valley representatives expressed their enthusiasm for the prospect of a Los Angeles Rams-themed center coming to Woodland Hills after Rams owner and developer Stan Kroenke purchased a second big property at Warner Center.

“It’s a very, very positive step for Warner Center for the future,” said Brad Rosenheim, executive director of the Warner Center Association. “It will be a very exciting proposition. It will become part of the Warner Center community as a significant asset.”

According to published reports, Kroenke is the buyer of an empty 13-story Landmark office building at 21555 Oxnard St., purchasing the former Anthem Inc. building for $175 million.

Situated on 32 acres, the Landmark sits adjacent to the nearly dormant Westfield Promenade mall property, which Kroenke purchased in March for $150 million. With the addition of the 45,000-square-foot vacant Landmark building and the surrounding land, Kroenke now owns two square blocks – 65 acres in the center of Woodland Hills.

The land is in the very heart of what has long envisioned to be the downtown of the San Fernando Valley. But that vision seemed far off because both parcels sat neglected with no immediate plans for them.

“It is an incredibly exciting time for the West Valley,” said Diana Williams, chief executive of West Valley-Warner Center Chamber of Commerce. “This huge investment in over 65 acres of our Warner Center will put the community in position to realize the vision of the Warner Center 2035 Specific Plan,” which is the city-approved scheme to remake Warner Center into a kind of downtown.

While the reticent Kroenke has not revealed his plans for the properties, the assumption is that the Promenade site, and now maybe the Landmark site, will be transformed into the L.A. Rams’ team headquarters and practice facility with surrounding commercial development, perhaps resembling a scaled-down version of the Hollywood Park area in Inglewood, which includes SoFi Stadium. 

The Promenade site is already entitled for a hotel along with retail, office and residential space. 

The Rams are currently headquartered in Agoura Hills and have a practice field at California Lutheran University in nearby Thousand Oaks.

Prime opportunity

The land is ripe for commercial development. The Warner Center 2035 Specific Plan, promoted by L.A. City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, seeks to make the Warner Center neighborhood the downtown district of the San Fernando Valley, and now a single owner controls a wide swath of it.

Before Kroenke purchased the Promenade site, previous owner Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield completed the city’s lengthy planning and development process, securing approval for the 3.2 million-square-foot mixed-use Promenade 2035 project. The $1.5 billion overhaul of the parcel near Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Oxnard Street would have brought 1,400 apartment units, retail and restaurants, a 527-key hotel, a 25-story office building and 10,000- to 15,000-seat sports arena to the site. After that plan was approved, however, Unibail announced it was largely exiting American retail properties. 

Because of the approvals, Kroenke could develop the site in a similar fashion without going through a new round of costly and time-eating entitlement hearings. 

“The sites will be master planned in a way to be specific with the Warner Center (2035 Specific Plan),” said Rosenheim.

Anthem had occupied the Landmark building since its inception in 1978. In 2019, the company relocated to its current location, 6300 Canoga Ave. in Woodland Hills.

Community reaction

Reaction to Kroenke’s purchase of both the former Anthem site and the neighboring Promenade property has been overwhelmingly positive.

Stuart Waldman, president of Valley Industry Commerce Association, welcomed the news of a potential Rams-centric sports and entertainment campus at Warner Center.

“It’s awesome,” Waldman said. “(Kroenke) develops good projects. If you look at SoFi Stadium and what’s going on there, it’s incredible.”

Waldman said a Rams site would enhance Woodland Hills, and he feels that the Valley’s 2 million residents will support it.

“It’s not only good for Warner Center, it’s good for the whole Valley,” Waldman said. “Anything that’s Rams-themed will bring people out …Winning the Super Bowl obviously helps.”

Marty Cooper, a civic leader and chief executive of Cooper Communications, said the news of Kroenke’s purchase is “terrific.”

“The West Valley has long hungered for both athletic and cultural opportunities and facilities,” Cooper said. “Early on, he talked about establishing a footprint for the Rams in the Valley.”

Cooper said that moving forward, Kroenke would have to develop the project responsibly. 

“I’d like them to see them work more closely with the West Valley community so that something is built that works with the community, from the standpoint of traffic, the environment,” Cooper said. “At the end of the day, when it goes before the City Council, we want all of the elements of the community to say we’re in favor of this.”

John Walker is president of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization, which has already met with the Kroenke Group. 

“They met with us before they had purchased the Promenade to discuss details with us,” Walker said. “The meetings were very positive.”

Granted, Kroenke is in the earliest stages of thinking about how to utilize the land. 

“We let them know very clearly that the noise and traffic issues are always problematic,” Walker said. “They said they were interested in putting in some practice fields. They were not sure what they would do with an arena. They don’t really have a plan yet for all of that, but we’re looking forward to working with them.”

Walker’s organization had been involved with the previous plans to develop the land.

“We worked very hard with Westfield when they developed their Promenade project,” said Walker, who believes that developing a Rams site will take some work.

“When there are opportunities like this, there’s always a room for a negative impact,” Walker said, “and we’re going to work with them to see that the negative impact is minimized or eliminated.”

That said, Walker is very optimistic about the project in Kroenke’s hands.

“I think we’ll be able to work with them very well,” Walker said. “It will make Woodland Hills the best place to live, work and play.” 

Vahid Khorsand, now a commissioner on the Los Angeles Board of Public Works, served as vice president of the citywide planning commission when the entitlements were approved for the Westfield Promenade 2035 project. He said that the two adjoining parcels owned by the same owner “is definitely very exciting. This gives an opportunity for continuity.”

With Kroenke behind both parcels, “there’s a commitment to a long-term vision, rather than someone who will build it and then will leave,” Khorsand said. “He’s a long-term player.”

The various community representatives spoke about what they’d like to see rise on what is now Kroenke’s land.

Williams said the West Valley-Warner Center Chamber of Commerce would like to see a “sports-centric mixed-use with new businesses including stores and restaurants. The community would also enjoy green space that is pedestrian friendly.”

“What I’d like to see them put there – things that serve the community as well as make money,” Cooper said. “For example, we have a lot of nonprofits that have really poor facilities. There’s no reason why we can’t have room there for nonprofits. But I’m not expecting the Rams to be a charitable foundation.”

Added Walker: “The best version of it is there’s a good meeting of commercial and residential. If an arena is built, we’re hoping that it will be a closed arena.”

“It’s definitely going to be mixed-use,” Waldman said. “That’s what’s been approved. They have approvals that will allow them to go forward without going back.”

While some may assume that an incoming development would mean that the former Anthem building will be razed, that might not be the case, as the Kroenke organization could develop the land faster if the building was left intact.

“The Anthem building — they can use as their headquarters,” Walker said. “That’s a turnkey. They walk into that, they’re up and running. If they tear it down, there’s a whole bunch of delays.”

With the entitlements already in place, Khorsand said “it’s all pretty much set to go,” and that probably made the deal more appealing.

“Hopefully, they can build it before 2028 so it can be a component of the Olympics as well,” Khorsand added. He hopes the Rams center will be “a validation for the city and the Valley that it can be an epicenter. There is value to being in the Valley.”

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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