Warner Cen­ter is slated for ur­ban-style up­grade

A $1-bil­lion project calls for of­fices, stores, restau­rants, a ho­tel and live-work units.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Roger Vin­cent

One of Warner Cen­ter’s one-story ram­bling of­fice parks is poised to go ver­ti­cal as a new era of ur­ban­iza­tion un­folds in the Wood­land Hills neigh­bor­hood.

The pro­posed $1-bil­lion devel­op­ment by Adler Realty In­vest­ments Inc. is one of many big real es­tate plans com­ing to­gether in Warner Cen­ter, where Los An­ge­les city plan­ners are work­ing to cre­ate another densely oc­cu­pied ur­ban hub with the ap­peal of a bustling city neigh­bor­hood.

And there’s a lot of space to work with in the as­phalt plains of what is still mostly a subur­ban of­fice dis­trict. Health in­surer An­them Inc., for ex­am­ple, is try­ing to sell its 26-acre park­ing lot to a de­vel­oper in­ter­ested in build­ing a new com­mu­nity there.

The planned build­ing boom may help Warner Cen­ter fi­nally achieve its orig­i­nal pur­pose. In the early 1970s, plan­ners de­cided that the west Val­ley land, once the site of movie mogul Harry Warner’s horse ranch, should be turned into a “down­town” for the San Fer­nando Val­ley.

As it de­vel­oped, how­ever, Warner Cen­ter bore only

passing re­sem­blance to the densely built ur­ban dis­tricts peo­ple as­so­ci­ate with that word.

To­day, the neigh­bor­hood is a mix of of­fice tow­ers that pierce a sea of cookie-cut­ter, low-slung of­fice build­ings served by acres of sur­face park­ing lots. Apart­ments and stores are mostly iso­lated in dis­creet blocks, and the whole ex­panse is ringed and cleaved by wide, fast­mov­ing streets that flow to free­ways.

“It needs the edge that down­town L.A., Ma­rina del Rey and NoHo have,” said Dean Zan­der, an ex­ec­u­tive at real es­tate ad­vi­sory firm Berka­dia. “To at­tract mil­len­ni­als, it should have more of an ur­ban feel with bars, gath­er­ing places and so­cial cen­ters.”

That vi­sion is at the core of a plan adopted by the city in 2013 in­tended to make Warner Cen­ter feel more like a city.

Of­fi­cials ap­proved zon­ing that al­lows for 30 mil­lion square feet of com­mer­cial space, dou­ble what cur­rently ex­ists. The plan also re­moved build­ing height caps in most of the 1.5-square-mile dis­trict bounded by the 101 Free­way, Vanowen Street, DeSoto Av­enue and Topanga Canyon Boule­vard.

Long­time val­ley land­lord Michael Adler of Adler Realty re­cently un­veiled plans to turn his de­cid­edly subur­ban-look­ing Warner Cen­ter Cor­po­rate Park of­fice cam­pus into a 2.6-mil­lion­square-foot devel­op­ment where peo­ple could live and work.

Adler and fi­nan­cial part­ner LLJ Ven­tures plan to de­mol­ish his 350,000-square­foot of­fice park, com­posed mostly of is­lands of lowslung con­crete and black­glass build­ings sep­a­rated by park­ing lots.

He has ap­plied for ap­proval to re­place the 1980sera devel­op­ment with more than 1 mil­lion square feet of of­fices, 80,000 square feet of stores and restau­rants, 1,000 res­i­den­tial units, 68 live­work units and a 228-room ho­tel. There would also be parks and pedes­trian-ori­ented open space.

Other de­vel­op­ers have projects planned for va­cant sites, but Adler plans to re­make an ac­tive prop­erty. His ex­ist­ing complex is al­most fully leased to such ten­ants as All­state In­sur­ance and U.S. Bank­ruptcy Court.

He plans to build out the devel­op­ment over 15 years or more as leases ex­pire but hopes to start on the apart­ments in about 18 months.

“Peo­ple who work in the area need more hous­ing to keep up” with de­mand, he said.

Zan­der, who rode his bi­cy­cle through the empty streets of Warner Cen­ter as a boy in the 1970s, es­ti­mates that 9,100 apart­ments and con­do­mini­ums are in the devel­op­ment pipeline now and thou­sands more are be­ing con­sid­ered.

The in­flux of res­i­dents along with mixed-use projects like Adler’s should help con­nect Warner Cen­ter’s iso­lated pock­ets of of­fices, malls and apart­ments into a city-like neigh­bor­hood, Zan­der said.

“There are enough new prop­er­ties pend­ing that are go­ing to bring that so­phis­ti­ca­tion to the area and hope­fully strad­dle the lines and mak­ing it more of an ur­ban cen­ter,” he said.

West­field, whose Warner Cen­ter re­tail prop­er­ties draw 20 mil­lion shop­pers an­nu­ally, is al­ready un­der­way on a mas­sive $1.5-bil­lion project to de­mol­ish its ob­so­lete Prom­e­nade shop­ping mall. Dat­ing from 1972, it will be re­placed with an ex­pan­sive mixed-use complex with nearly 1,500 res­i­dences, two ho­tels and a con­cert venue.

“We feel this part of Los An­ge­les con­tin­ues to get bet­ter and bet­ter,” said Larry Green, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of devel­op­ment for West­field, who grew up in Van Nuys. “It has be­come a more de­sir­able place to live.”

The Prom­e­nade devel­op­ment on Topanga Canyon Boule­vard would be an ex­ten­sion of West­field’s $350mil­lion Vil­lage at Topanga “life­style cen­ter” that opened across the street last year.

In ad­di­tion to hous­ing, plans for a new Prom­e­nade in­clude shops, of­fices, ho­tels and a 15,000-seat arena for con­certs and sports. Also en­vi­sioned are 7 acres of open space, in­clud­ing a 1acre park, known as Prom­e­nade Square, that could host out­door movie nights.

The Prom­e­nade devel­op­ment could get un­der­way by 2020 and could take 15 years to com­plete in phases.

Sched­uled to start next year and be com­pleted far sooner is West­field’s $300mil­lion project to con­vert the for­mer Sears store be­tween West­field Top­ganga and the Vil­lage shop­ping cen­ters to a movie complex, along with restau­rants and a “flag­ship” store for a promi­nent re­tail brand, Green said,

Another ma­jor Warner Cen­ter project is un­der­way at the old Rock­et­dyne plant on Canoga Av­enue. The 47acre site called Up­town at Warner Cen­ter will give way to a high-rise “ur­ban neigh­bor­hood” with 4 mil­lion square feet of res­i­dences, 1.1 mil­lion square feet of of­fices, ho­tels and stores. It is to have a central park, per­for­mance spa­ces and pedes­trian paths.

In ad­di­tion, the Wood­land Hills-Warner Cen­ter Neigh­bor­hood Coun­cil re­cently ap­proved a sev­en­story, 170-room ho­tel pro­posed for 5957 Variel Ave. at Ox­nard Street that would re­place a small of­fice build­ing built in 1979.

The Warner Cen­ter 2035 plan is de­signed to unify these projects and oth­ers.

It di­vides the area into eight dis­tricts with names such as Down­town, Up­town and Com­merce, each with its own devel­op­ment guide­lines. The plan calls for the long city blocks to be bro­ken up with new pedes­trian path­ways, new streets and more cross­walks. De­vel­op­ers will pay fees to fund many of the changes.

The city’s green light for dense devel­op­ment in Warner Cen­ter has made land more valu­able, and some own­ers are hop­ing to cash in by sell­ing their prop­erty to de­vel­op­ers.

An­them Inc., which oc­cu­pies a 14-story of­fice tower at 21555 Ox­nard St., re­cently put the sur­round­ing 26-acre park­ing lot on the market, telling po­ten­tial buy­ers that the city’s 2035 plan would al­low them to build more than 5.5 mil­lion square feet of of­fices, res­i­dences, stores and ho­tel rooms.

An­them is typ­i­cal of ten­ants in the Warner Cen­ter of­fice market. The dis­trict has his­tor­i­cally has been known as a “back of­fice” lo­ca­tion for big com­pa­nies that need in­ex­pen­sive space for scores of em­ploy­ees, said real es­tate bro­ker Mike Longo of CBRE.

It’s also been a weak of­fice market in the past but has im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent years.

Over­all va­cancy is about 11%, he said, down from as high as 20% in 2010. Av­er­age rents for Class A space are about $2.70 per square foot per month, com­pared with as much as $7 in Santa Mon­ica and $3.50 in En­cino. That’s an at­trac­tion for the de­vel­op­ers who are plan­ning mixed-use projects that will even­tu­ally in­clude still more of­fices.

The 2035 plan amounts to a wel­come mat for any builder who may have a hard time find­ing space else­where in the re­gion.

“Warner Cen­ter is very fa­vor­able for de­vel­op­ers com­ing in, given the lack of sup­ply” of avail­able land in L.A., Longo said. “It’s a re­ally at­trac­tive place to de­velop.”

Adler Realty In­vest­ments Inc.

A REN­DER­ING of Warner Cen­ter Cor­po­rate Park af­ter the cur­rent park is re­placed by a 2.6-mil­lion-square-foot devel­op­ment where peo­ple can live and work.

Pho­to­graphs by Myung J. Chun Los An­ge­les Times

WARNER CEN­TER is a mix of of­fice tow­ers amid low-slung of­fice build­ings served by park­ing lots. Above, An­them is try­ing to sell its 26-acre park­ing lot to a de­vel­oper in­ter­ested in build­ing a new com­mu­nity there.

DE­VEL­OPER Michael Adler plans to re­place his Warner Cen­ter Cor­po­rate Park of­fice cam­pus with a project that would in­clude more than 1 mil­lion square feet of of­fices, 1,000 res­i­den­tial units and a 228-room ho­tel.

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