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Levi Strauss to Pull Office Out of California Mart : Garment District: The blue jeans maker is moving to Long Beach. Building owners view the decision as corporate restructuring.

September 05, 1993|IRIS YOKOI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Blue jeans company Levi Strauss has announced that it will move its Southern California office out of the California Mart building in the garment district to downtown Long Beach.

Just as 400 other California Mart tenants are considering a move to Santa Monica, Levi Strauss signed a 10-year lease to occupy part of the 20th floor of the Landmark Square office building at 111 W. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach.

The clothing manufacturer's decision to move its sales and administrative office was based on proximity to employees and large customers such as the Broadway department stores, said Dave Samson, Levi Strauss spokesman. Landmark also offered a lease that was "more cost-effective," he said.

Although a number of garment industry business owners have complained that crime and image problems make Downtown Los Angeles unsuitable for the fashion industry, Samson said those issues had nothing to do with Levi Strauss' decision to move.

"It was principally the proximity to our employees and customers," Samson said. "Most of our employees live in the Long Beach area, and it also makes it easier to serve our biggest customers."

The Southern California office of Levi Strauss has 34 sales and administrative employees, who provided extensive input about the move, which should take place in November, Samson said.

California Mart officials downplayed the significance of Levi Strauss' move, saying they understand the decision is based on corporate restructuring.

"We don't think this will impact the Mart, or Mart tenants, at all," one spokeswoman said.

But 400 of the California Mart's 1,455 tenants have reportedly expressed interest in moving to the Water Garden commercial and office complex in Santa Monica.

Milt Swimmer, a partner of Water Garden developer J. H. Snyder & Co., said he has received 400 letters expressing interest from California Mart tenants and is now working on financing to build a garment mart at the complex.

Swimmer said he expects financing to be secured within three months, with construction on the 600,000-square-foot building at Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street slated to begin in three to six months. "We've gotten more than enough positive response from people to fill this place," Swimmer said.

General-lease terms, which call for the same lease rate for all the garment tenants, have been negotiated and officials are now drafting a lease form, Swimmer said.

"The horses are saddled--the posse was assembled a long time ago," said Jeff Krinsky, an apparel wholesaler who plans to move.

Dissatisfied California Mart tenants claim buyers from across the country complain of high hotel and transportation costs in Downtown and fear walking the streets at night.

Some tenants also said the Morse family, owners of the 27-year-old California Mart, hurt business during tough economic times by increasing rents as much as 20%, mixing types of apparel on each floor and allowing competing cash-and-carry wholesalers--who provide inventory on the spot and sell retail to the public--into the 1.5-million-square-foot building.

Several hundred of the unhappy tenants formed an association last year and hired real estate brokers to scout for new locations.

California Mart and city officials responded by repairing and cleaning the streets and assigning nine bicycle police officers to the neighborhood. California Mart also dropped rental rates.

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