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Century City Project Upsets Some Residents

They bemoan loss of Shubert Theatre, retail outlets. Developer says 'cultural amenities' are in new plan.

April 14, 2002|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Levi likes what he sees in Century City.

"I have a view from Beverly Hills to Long Beach," he says. "I have 48 feet of windows and a balcony. I look down on 200-plus varieties of trees and thousands of flowers. The flowers are changed as needed--about 21/2 times a year.

"I love it here. I do."

Levi lives in Century City, an exclusive Los Angeles enclave of high-rise offices, underground parking and an almost invisible neighborhood of residences.

Four thousand people, in fact, live in the half-square-mile area on the southwestern edge of Beverly Hills that was built as Los Angeles' first experiment with mixed-use development.

For 40 years, it has been a bastion of stability. Its condominiums have been filled with a mix of actors, Hollywood agents and well-heeled retirees, widows and divorcees. Its offices have bulged with lawyers and entertainment industry types. Its posh hotels with business travelers and others looking for luxury without the appearance of extravagance.

There are movie theaters and restaurants within easy walking distance. At its heart, the Shubert Theatre fit right in by offering a diet of tried-and-true Broadway musicals--the type of fare easily within the comfort zone of those living and visiting nearby.

But the Shubert and the rest of the ABC Entertainment Center are coming down, and a new office complex is going up. And suddenly, Levi isn't sure he likes what he's starting to see from his 11th-floor condominium.

"If they build it like they show in the sketches, it will be awful for the merchants who will lose their space. To me the answer is not to build another 15-story office building. I think it will destroy the ambience," he says.

The $300-million structure planned for Avenue of the Stars will be an eye-catcher. It will have a 90-by-110-foot hole in the middle of it that opens onto a plaza. It will replace the 30-year-old Shubert and the shops, cafes and cinemas that are between the Century Plaza Hotel and the twin 44-story Century Plaza Towers office buildings.

The project, proposed to start next year, is not the only new development that residents worry is tipping Century City's scales from civility to too much commerce.

A 35-floor office tower under construction atop a former parking lot on Constellation Place on the western edge of Century City will open next year. MGM will be the primary tenant, occupying more than half of the 700,000 square feet of what will be called MGM Tower.

Concern Over Traffic, Losing Character

But it is the redevelopment of the Shubert and the rest of the ABC Entertainment Center properties that has locals worried about losing neighborhood character and convenience--and about choking on new traffic congestion.

There was head-scratching at a Century City Chamber of Commerce meeting when development planners displayed a scale-model of the proposed building with its open-air "window."

"Where are we going to eat?" asked law office employee Kathryn Gepner, pointing out that a collection of fast-food outlets and other small restaurants and cafes that cater to many of Century City's 40,000 workers will disappear.

Project planners said details of a new tenant mix have yet to be worked out. But they promised that initial plans call for a major restaurant as well as "cultural amenities" that will replace the Shubert.

"We feel that losing the Shubert should be mitigated," said Dan Niemann, an executive with Trammell Crow, the Texas-based real estate company spearheading the new construction plan and operating the property for J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., which bought it in 1997.

Niemann suggested that the building's unusual hole-in-the-center design will help tame the ocean breeze that sweeps over the Century Plaza Hotel, hits the 35th floor of the twin towers and then forms a windy swirl around the courtyard between the structures.

"We think it's exactly what's needed" to compensate for "the more aging assets here in Century City," he said of the proposed building.

The worries of Century City residents and workers and of homeowners in the nearby Cheviot Hills area were quickly noted at Los Angeles City Hall.

Councilman Jack Weiss, who was elected last fall to represent the Westside neighborhoods, asked that the city require a full environmental impact report for the project. Trammell Crow wanted the project to qualify for a so-called mitigated negative declaration and avoid the complicated and costly report.

"The trick is maintaining a balance in Century City," said Weiss. "On one hand, we have a commercial center that has no competition in attracting top-flight law firms, and on the other hand, making sure that doesn't overwhelm existing neighborhoods."

Although the neighborhood is touted as Los Angeles' premier example of a master-planned commercial-residential setting, it really isn't, according to Weiss.

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