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New Development to Sprout on Lot of Trash and Weeds : Design for Commercial-Housing Project on Former Site of Pepperdine University Will Be Picked by Dec. 13


Once the site of a bustling university campus, the dusty, weedy lot at the corner of 81st Street and Vermont Avenue is strewn with trash and debris.

The property, which is barren and has been in disrepair for two decades, clashes with the well-kept homes of the nearby Vermont Knolls neighborhood.

But by the middle of next year, construction will begin on a housing and commercial development project on the land, the site of Pepperdine University before it moved to Malibu in 1972.

First Interstate Bank impaneled seven people to judge dozens of development proposals, for which the bank would provide $15 million in construction loans. The winning developer is to assume ownership of the land from Mehdi Bollour, and be responsible for completing the project and maintaining it, bank officials said.

The judges have whittled down the entries to three finalists and will decide on a winner by Dec. 13. The winning project promises to be one of the largest developments in the South Vermont Avenue corridor in 20 years.

"Part of the most recent history of many of these neighborhoods is that they've been neglected in terms of quality development," said Michaele Pride-Wells, owner of the Marina del Rey firm re:Architecture and one of the judges.

"This competition provides some support for high-quality, community-based design," said Pride-Wells, who is familiar with the area through volunteering with the Coalition of Neighborhood Planners, a development planning group in South Los Angeles.

The judges include Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, residents and outside urban planners and architects.

"I'm looking for something that will not only meet the criteria of what the land is to be used for; I'm also looking at the aesthetics (of the development) that are suited for the area," said John Outerbridge, one of the judges and a renowned local artist who is a former director of the Watts Towers Arts Center.

From a pool of 10 developers and 66 architects statewide, the judges selected three teams of community redevelopment corporations, architects, contractors and property managers in June to compete as finalists in the competition.

The winning proposal will be sensitive to community concerns, such as added population density from more housing, financial feasibility and an enhancement to the existing neighborhood. The winning team must also ensure that the project's development will create employment opportunities for residents, although the number of jobs has not been determined.

Sponsored by First Interstate in conjunction with Ridley-Thomas, each team received $25,000 from the bank to gather input from community members on features they would like to see in the development.

The resulting proposals:

* A development with 35 single-family homes and 14,000 square feet of commercial space designed by Caleb Development. The project would include offices for USC's Business Expansion Network, which would help fledgling community-based businesses in on-site spaces.

* A multilevel project designed by the Vermont-Slauson-Sherman group that would include retail and community space at the street level and upper-level studio or loft spaces that could be converted either to office space or townhomes.

* An "urban village" designed by the Barker-Catalyst-LR/MPR team that would be made up of retail spaces at the street level, including 17 senior citizen housing units, and 47 units for families on the upper levels. There would also be community services such as child development and senior citizens' programs, a family health facility and neighborhood employment center.

The public still has a chance to view the scale models of the three competing proposals. The models will be on display at the First Interstate headquarters Downtown, 707 Wilshire Blvd., through Thursday.

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