The problem is that the number would be much higher if there were more stores. So the Australian-based Westfield Group, which owns and operates Century City and nine other centers in the L.A. area, is ready to start construction on a $500 million expansion - a project that won't be complete until 2017. With Westfield, as I note in the June issue of Los Angeles magazine, bigger is always better. At Century City, that means the addition of a second floor to the existing center, along with an adjacent 39-story hotel-condo tower. Westfield came to the U.S. in the late 1970s, and its first entry into L.A. was development of the Westdside Pavilion (which it later sold). Today, it's a real estate colossus, with 118 centers worldwide and assets valued at nearly $33 billion, not including works in progress like the retail portion of New York's World Trade Center. It also has a huge lobbying presence in L.A. From my June piece in the magazine::
You might recognize Westfield by the red-scripted logo that's displayed atop each of its properties. But it's also known as a preeminent fixer-upper of shopping centers, a big, messy process that requires huge amounts of capital, a coterie of lawyers and lobbyists, and most important, time. Westfield, you see, has a way of wearing everybody else down. "You know going in that they'll get most everything they want," says the head of a West L.A. neighborhood group, and it's true. With Century City, the company agreed to construct an area for bicycle storage lockers and showers, and to lop off 10 stories from a planned 49-story hotel-condo tower. Those changes, however, still leave most of the blueprint intact. ... Westfield co-chief executive Peter Lowy joked during a speech last fall that of the 170 people in attendance, 30 or 40 were from Westfield and "the other 100 or so are from law firms--I think downtown--that we do business with."
The thing to know about Westfield, beyond all the money, is the single-mindedness. Lowy believes that urban areas offer the best potential for development and that the best urban areas are both densely populated and located near transportation hubs. Busier is better. This is not a new concept in other parts of the world, but in sprawling and congested Southern California, busier isn't that inviting a prospect, especially for the people who have to live with it. When the company first proposed the Village, a 1.4-million-square-foot mixed-use project in Woodland Hills, residents were furious. They had been putting up with congestion from Westfield's two nearby malls--Westfield Topanga and the Promenade--and were now faced with still more stores, anchored by a Costco that would attract shoppers from other parts of the San Fernando Valley. It took seven years of hearings and environmental impact statements before the L.A. city council finally signed off on the deal in February.
Inside Westfield Culver City. Photograph by Damon Casarez