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2 Big Retailers to Anchor Mall at Farmers Market : Decision by Nordstrom, May Co. Stirs Up Concerns Over Increased Traffic

October 10, 1989|MARTHA GROVES | Times Staff Writer

May Co. California said Monday that it plans to join Nordstrom in a controversial Farmers Market Mall that developers propose to open in spring, 1993, next to the existing Farmers Market at Third Street and Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles.

A massive, $300-million retail, business and residential development slated for the 31-acre site has raised the ire of community groups that fear a worsening of the traffic congestion in the already densely packed area, less than one mile east of the busy Beverly Center and its neighbor, Beverly Connection.

The groups have also been riled by a large expansion planned for the Park Labrea residential complex across Third Street from Farmers Market.

In addition, Forest City Enterprises, a Cleveland development firm, has said it plans to tear down the 50-year-old Art Deco building with the barrel-shaped corner facade that houses a May Co. department store at Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. The firm intends to erect a 19-story, 500-room hotel and another shopping mall.

Growth an Issue

Although plans for the Farmers Market Mall have been in development for more than 2 1/2 years, Monday's statement by May Co. was the first formal announcement of an anchor store. Nordstrom has also reportedly signed a letter of intent to build there, but a spokeswoman for the Seattle-based specialty chain said executives were out of the office and unavailable for comment.

Asked her response to Monday's announcement, slow-growth advocate Laura Lake, president of Friends of Westwood, said: " Oy, vey! This is not what our community needs. This is an intensification of retail activity in an area already overly intensified.

"When is enough enough?" she added. "We've reached the point where nothing is going to move on the streets anymore."

Councilmen John Ferraro and Zev Yaroslavsky last week announced their opposition to the proposed plans to build two regional shopping centers in Ferraro's 4th District.

"I can't imagine anything more preposterous than to approve these two developments at their proposed densities," Yaroslavsky, whose 5th District abuts the sites of the planned developments, said in a statement.

The development is a joint venture of A. F. Gilmore Co., a family-run company that has owned the parcel since 1880, and JMB/Urban Development of Chicago, which will be the managing partner.

Once part of the Mexican-era Rancho La Brea, the land has been used for a dairy, an oil field, a bank, a gas station, a baseball park and a drive-in theater. San Fernando Valley farmers began selling produce there in the summer of 1934, and the spot later became a tourist attraction.

The historic Gilmore Adobe, built on the site in 1852, and its gardens would become part of the public space of a planned hotel.

Farmers Market now consists of a food court, which the company said would be preserved and enhanced with an open plaza and new retailing, and newer buildings that house 25 to 30 merchants who would be displaced by construction.

"We're trying to put together a program that will allow them temporary space on or off the site with an opportunity to come back into the new project when it's constructed," said Hank Hilty, president of A. F. Gilmore.

180,000-Square-Foot Store

Barbara Williams, who has operated her Barbara Williams Cravats clothing shop at Farmers Market for 34 years, would be one of the tenants displaced.

"I don't think I would be too interested in going into the mall until I knew more about anchors and the rent structure," she said. "I'm concerned, (but) what will be will be. I keep thinking to myself that if I owned this property I'd probably be doing the same thing."

May Co., with 35 locations in California and $900 million in sales last year, said it plans a three-level, 180,000-square-foot store at Farmers Market. The mall is expected to have three large anchor stores and more than 100 smaller shops.

Also planned are a hotel with as many as 600 rooms, an office building of about 225,000 square feet, theaters, restaurants and a 150-unit residential complex.

An environmental impact report by the city concluded in July that traffic generated by the development would make the area more congested despite measures proposed by the city's Department of Transportation. The area, which has a large percentage of elderly residents, has become increasingly busy in recent years.

Methane Concerns

Gilmore plans to build a new road to ease traffic flow and has said it expects to spend $20 million on "traffic-mitigation measures" such as computerized traffic control.

Farmers Market is just across Third Street from the Ross Dress for Less shop, where an underground pocket of methane exploded in 1985. The report said the new buildings should include vents to prevent dangerous buildups of that sort.

The developers emphasized that actual construction of the mall is a ways off.

Norman Elkin, a vice president of JMB/Urban Development who is in charge of planning the mixed-use development at Farmers Market, said that the mall is still in the planning stages and that the city is preparing a final environmental impact report based on comments from public agencies and community groups.

"We are far from the promised land," Elkin said. "I'm sure there will be a lot of comment and study."

Once a final report is completed, the developers must still apply for building and zoning permits, a time-consuming process.

The timing of Monday's announcement, made on the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday, rankled Lake, the community activist, who noted that the affected area is heavily Jewish.

"It was calculated and offensive," she said. "To come out with a major announcement and expect people to answer their phones even on Yom Kippur is very offensive."

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