A leading wholesale home- and commercial-furnishings firm is considering moving its West Los Angeles headquarters in Pacific Design Center to the planned, $200-million Palace Square development downtown, The Times has learned from reliable industry sources.
A spokesman for Baker, Knapp & Tubbs would only say that the company has not signed a lease with Palace Square. That complex is to be developed by linking the Eastern Columbia and May Co. landmark buildings as an interior furnishings wholesale market. Palace Square is planned to encompass the block bounded by Broadway, Hill, 8th and 9th streets.
Other Westside tenants--C. W. Stockwell, Scalamandre, Fred Bleyer, Brunswick Fils--also are reported to be interested in future moves to Palace Square.
Still others speculate on how the presence of this new downtown project, linking the two buildings, may affect the expansion plans for the Pacific Design Center, which is currently 100% leased, and whether the Design Center of Los Angeles on Spring Street will find itself facing a serious vacancy factor.
Primary sources talked guardedly, hedging on the ground that the timing was not right for any definitive comments.
Negotiating Lease Extension
"Nothing that is projected to occur will affect our expansion plans," said Murray Feldman, general manager of huge Pacific Design Center, popularly referred to as the "Blue Whale."
Feldman said he does not believe the Chicago-based firm of Baker, Knapp & Tubbs will leave West Los Angeles. "Their lease ends in 1991, and we are now engaged in negotiations to extend it to the year 2000."
Jack Warnock, the firm's chief Los Angeles representative at PDC, simply said: "We have not signed a lease with Palace Square." Robert Fernbacher, the firm's president in Chicago, was unavailable for further clarification.
Palace Square executives have adopted a "tactical and tactful" approach. Said Mary Maudlin Brown, one of its developers: "We are talking to a number of tenants in the industry and we hope to make an announcement on our leasing progress in the near future."
Feldman bases his optimism of PDC's future on several factors.
"We have enjoyed enormous success thus far and we are 100% leased, and we have an extensive tenant waiting list," he said. "Our location is in the hub of West Los Angeles' decorating and contract furnishings community that currently encompasses 3 million square feet of showrooms and support services and we don't anticipate a change of focus."
Expansion plans for Pacific Design Center, soon to be officially announced, will include two phases of construction and the addition of 825,000 square feet, bringing the total for PDC to more than 1.5 million square feet.
Plans for a hotel on the site have been abandoned, Feldman revealed, because additional showroom space and services are warranted. Ground breaking for 425,000 square feet of the first phase is set for next spring.
Meanwhile, other downtown wholesale furnishings centers representatives expressed interest.Even the L. A. Mart, formerly the major furnishings center for the city at Broadway and Washington Boulevard, will benefit from the presence of Palace Square, though its own emphasis is now chiefly on gifts and accessories, a spokesman said.
'Emphasis on Downtown
"What it means is a greater emphasis on downtown, and those designers who have confined their sources to the Westside will be filtering back," he added.
Mollie Qvale, co-owner of the Design Center of Los Angeles on Spring Street, and its director of public relations, said she couldn't be happier at the prospect of having Palace Square as a neighbor.
"The project has already begun to affect us in a positive way, she said. "Los Angeles is in great need of facilities for the high-end furnishings sector. At present, the showrooms are filled in our main building and we are moving tenants into our adjoining building. We feel that there will be a return to Los Angeles for the industry.
"Our plans include a retail area on the ground floor, a new Designers' Express Cafe, and we are reserving our second floor as a "Great Hall" for exhibits.
"I believe the Westside will have its own strength because there are still many interior designers based there who operate on very big budgets. But downtown, the furnishings will be priced better and the rents will be lower, as well.
"To Palace Square developers, our only comment is: Come on in you guys, the water is great."