Bill Boyarsky
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Development wars and malls: Beverly Center and Westside Pavilion

The recent history of Los Angeles can be told by a tour of its malls from the sprawling shopping centers designed for the car-mad post-World War II years to the present where retailers are competing for affluent shoppers, battling online merchants, and trying to figure out the future of a city flirting with alternate means of transportation such as Uber and expanded public transit.

bill-300.jpgThose problems no doubt are behind plans to remodel the monster eight-story Beverly Center at Beverly and La Cienega boulevards into something that might catch the eye of Angelenos. Beverly Center, ponderous when it was new in the 1980s, now must compete with such flashy attractions as the Third Street Promenade, Old Town Pasadena, the Grove and the revamped Century City. All of them offer customers daylight and sunshine, major ingredients of a Southern California lifestyle that was missed by Beverly Center designers.

I’m writing about malls because of a combination of journalistic curiosity and self interest. The new Century City mall has poached Nordstrom’s, the best store in our neighborhood mall, the Westside Pavilion at Pico and Westwood Boulevards. With Nordstrom’s going and only Macy’s remaining—along with a number of marginal shops—the future of the Pavilion, opened in 1985, seems dim with the exception of the Landmark theaters and a couple of restaurants in the building across Westwood Boulevard.

What makes this more than a neighborhood story is opening of the Expo rail line. The final stretch from Culver City into Santa Monica is almost completed. There are stations at Westwood and Sepulveda boulevards, and the prospect of train service is heating up interest in L.A.’s favorite business, land speculation and development. The Westside Pavilion, minus Nordstrom’s, is headed for big change, and all of us in the neighborhood are curious about what will happen.

I asked the Pavilion’s owner, Macerich. I was referred to Karen Maurer, a company official, who asked me to email my questions. I did, but she never replied. I got the story anyway from Barbara Broide, a longtime leader of the Westwood South of Santa Monica Blvd. Homeowners Assn. She said Macerich Vice President for Development Bob Aptaker told a meeting of our homeowners’ group in November the company plans to empty the mall of its remaining tenants once Nordstrom’s leaves. The interior will be gutted. An ugly wall on Pico will be torn down and new shops, bigger than the old, will be open to Pico, with plenty of glass. Whole Foods is being mentioned as a possible tenant, as is Dick’s Sporting Goods. Macerich hopes the Expo line will provide some customers.

But nobody has seen a final plan and some are speculating that the main Pavilion structure will be torn down and replaced by something more profitable. Will Macerich, now talking about a fairly modest project, go for a multi use development—retail, offices and housing--that would require a change in city zoning laws and regulations? That sort of thing is happening all over the city, particularly along the route of the new transit lines. Resentment of such plans in Hollywood has led to an anti-development proposal to put a restrictive measure on the city ballot in November.

The Coalition to Preserve L.A. is pushing a ballot measure that would impose a moratorium of up to two years on new development projects including housing that would require City Council approval. The proposal would also make it difficult to amend the city general plan to permit more development.

Development plans from the Westside to Hollywood and into the San Fernando Valley will be at the center of political controversy as developers and property owners maneuver to profit in the changing L.A.

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