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Developers Unveil Revised Plans for Ambassador Hotel Site

Real estate: Proponents hope retail and entertainment complex will bring new life to stretch of Wilshire Boulevard.

November 20, 1998|MELINDA FULMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

New plans for a $250-million pedestrian-oriented retail and entertainment complex on the site of the former Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles have been unveiled by developers, who were stung by criticism of an earlier, plainer proposal.

A San Diego-based partnership is circulating revised plans to community leaders and city officials for Wilshire Center Marketplace, a 1-million-square-foot project that proponents hope will bring new life to a long-suffering stretch of Wilshire Boulevard.

The center, which sources say might cost $250 million by the time it's complete, is one of the largest projects attempted in the central city in many years. It would consist of three levels of sit-down restaurants, theaters and retail shops in Art Deco and Moderne styles, with several levels of parking and a pedestrian entrance on Wilshire. A large home improvement store, a grocery store and other discount stores would flank the 23-acre site near 8th Street.

Developers S.D. Malkin Group and Amec Corp. went back to the drawing board last spring after some planners and members of the community expressed dissatisfaction with the group's plans to raze the shuttered hotel and build a center featuring so-called big-box discounters such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot, a theater and very little public space.

The new plan, designed by Santa Monica-based architecture firm Gensler, incorporates a central pedestrian "street," and architecture reminiscent of nearby landmarks such as Farmer's Market, Chapman Market, the former Bullocks Wilshire building and the famous Cocoanut Grove night club at the Ambassador.

"It's got more courtyards and walkways, it's just more aesthetic," said Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden, who has supported the group's attempt to bring retail to the site in his district. "It's much better than the previous design."

However, even if the group's plans are well-received by other city officials, the project could be at least a year and a half away from construction. Its owners must first go through a lengthy city entitlement process and settle a $45-million claim by the Los Angeles Unified School District. At the beginning of the decade, the school district condemned the site, with the intention of building a high school on the property. The district later dropped its plans. Ambassador Associates, the partnership that owns the property, did not return the district's purchase deposit because of a feud between former Ambassador Associates partner Donald Trump and the district.

Earlier this year, the district began foreclosure proceedings on the property in an attempt to recover its money. But a Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted a postponement of the sheriff's sale until Ambassador could file an appeal. That stay expires Dec. 14, by which time Ambassador Associates hopes to have an appellate court decide how much, if any, it owes the district.

Meanwhile, the project will move forward, said Los Angeles attorney Garrett L. Hanken, who represents the developers. "Our intention is to press forward with the entitlement process. That could be finished before the litigation is finished," Hanken said.

Project manager Steve Lawler said the developers will begin marketing the project to retailers next year: "Some of the big retailers have been very receptive because they are now committed to doing new stores in urban areas."

Los Angeles Unified School District attorneys could not be reached for comment.

The project is one of several new retail centers planned for mid-Wilshire, an area with few national retailers and restaurant chains.

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