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Loft Sweet Loft at Famed Sunset and Vine

Housing: Regent Properties has revised plans for a Hollywood retail complex in favor of 300 apartments atop shops and restaurants.


Would-be starlets who come to seek their fortunes in Hollywood will soon be able to claim an address at a landmark junction: Sunset and Vine. And all those hip young professionals snagging jobs in fast-reviving Tinseltown are welcome too.

Well, at least 300 of them.

The Beverly Hills real estate firm that has been pursuing an entertainment-themed retail redevelopment at the northwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street for more than three years has revised its plans in favor of 300 live-work apartments atop a pedestrian-oriented level of shops and restaurants.

Regent Properties' new plan for the $75-million redevelopment project originally dubbed Hollywood Marketplace comes at a time when real estate experts have been raising alarms about the number of theaters being built throughout the nation.

"There's an overabundance of movie screens," acknowledged Douglas Brown, a co-managing partner at Regent. "We don't want to participate in that."

Instead of a multilevel retail and entertainment center featuring yet another multiscreen theater, Regent will build the kind of loft-oriented, housing-over-retail complex that has proved popular in other dense urban areas.

"People want to live in Hollywood and people want to shop in Hollywood; so why not put the two together?" Brown said. "Housing is typically the last element in an urban revival--and we think people want to live at Sunset and Vine."

City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg agreed. "People who want to be part of the excitement of Hollywood will have an opportunity to live, work and enjoy life all in one spot--the about-to-be-rejuvenated corner of Sunset and Vine," she said.

Brown noted that designs are still being finalized for the one- and two-bedroom residential units that will include both prevailing definitions of loft: the high-ceilinged flats associated with New York's SoHo district as well as apartments with an actual second-floor loft above the main level. "We're studying both of those definitions," he said.

Brown said Regent expects the apartments to rent at an average of $2 per square foot, meaning a 750-square-foot unit would command $1,500 per month.

While Regent and the city's Community Redevelopment Agency have discussed reserving certain units for low- or moderate-income residents, Brown said he expects that the apartments he describes as "condo quality" will be targeted primarily at young professionals.

"Hollywood's commercial buildings are getting filled with entertainment companies, 'dot-coms' and high-tech firms," Brown said, "but there's no high-end housing to service them."

Accordingly, Regent plans to equip the apartments with the latest Internet-related technologies as well as a workout facility, a lap pool and meeting rooms. The ground-floor shopping and dining area will focus on a crescent-shaped pedestrian "paseo" featuring several outdoor eating areas. Plans call for about 105,000 square feet of such facilities.

Regent will incorporate the facade of Vine Street's historic TAV Celebrity Theater building into the development.

This is the first time Regent has included apartments at its urban retail projects. Among them are the popular new Glendale Marketplace and a planned high-profile Westwood Village redevelopment awaiting final construction approvals.

The developer recently pulled out of a $100-million mixed-use project for downtown Burbank after failing to secure acceptable financing terms for its anchor Marriott hotel. But Brown said he doesn't anticipate any problem getting capital for the Hollywood project. He expects construction to start within the next four months.

While it remains to be seen whether renters will pay $2 per square foot for Hollywood lofts, the prospects "look pretty good today," said veteran apartment broker Robin Ossenbeck of Marcus & Millichap.

Now that all the disruptions from the early-1990s recession, the 1994 Northridge earthquake and subway construction have faded in favor of an economic boom, the Hollywood real estate market is "sizzling," she added.

As apartment rents have risen sharply in prime Westside districts over the last few years, Hollywood has become a more viable option for many renters, according to a just-compiled Marcus & Millichap report. The burgeoning demand has reduced Hollywood apartment vacancies to about 5.5% and boosted average rent for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit to $1,050.

"Lofts in Hollywood are always hot," Ossenbeck said. "And the younger crowd loves the architecturally significant [buildings] and the high ceilings whether it's old or new buildings."

Hollywood's resurgence reduces the risk of investing in such a pioneering project, Ossenbeck commented. "But just how much less of a risk it is will be their $64,000 question."

Through a revised plan the City Council has just approved, Regent will develop the retail and residential project but play no role in developing adjacent properties, Brown said.

In accordance with a deal recently worked out among various parties, the Ricardo Montalban-Nosotros Foundation will convert the adjacent Doolittle Theatre into a Latino-oriented performance center.

The project had also been delayed as Regent and Meringoff Equities, one of Hollywood's biggest property owners and a neighbor of the project, worked through a dispute over rights to park at the 825-stall garage the city will develop on an adjacent site.

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