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Gehry Says Wetlands Issue Not Behind Relocation Shift

Real estate: The Playa Vista space won't be ready in time, forcing the architect's choice.

September 04, 2002|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Architect Frank Gehry denied on Tuesday that he was swayed by the opponents of the Playa Vista project who last week celebrated the acclaimed architect's decision to relocate his firm to an industrial section near Marina del Rey instead of into Playa Vista as announced last year.

Gehry said his decision was driven by business practicalities and not by the environmentalists who have lobbied the architect to cut his ties to the project and support their efforts to restore wetlands. Gehry said the lease on his existing Santa Monica office expires at the end of the year while the former airplane hangar he was interested in occupying at Playa Vista is nowhere near ready for occupancy.

"It had nothing to do with wetlands," Gehry said during a telephone interview while he was on a European business trip. "We just could not get it on time and had to get another place."

Gehry and his 125-employee firm, Gehry Partners, will occupy more than half of the former West Coast headquarters of BMW of North America. The 72,000-square-foot complex on Beatrice Street was recently acquired by NSB Capital Partners for less than $10 million. Gehry, who also will have an ownership stake in the property, is a friend of NSB Capital chief Larry Field.

The building is just north of Playa Vista in an industrial zone that has become popular with high technology and design companies, including advertising agency TBWAChiatDay.

Gehry Partners will occupy a 40,000-square-foot warehouse section of the complex that has 20-foot-high ceilings, and NSB Capital Partners will seek tenants for the remaining office space. The move will allow the architectural firm--which designed the Disney Concert Hall now under construction in downtown Los Angeles--to house all of its employees on a single floor at a site with ample parking, Gehry said.

"We are going to put in a lot of skylights and bring in a lot of natural light," Gehry said. "We need to be all on one floor so we are all together."

Gehry was hired by developer Robert Maguire to create a master plan for the eastern edge of Playa Vista that includes Howard Hughes' historic aircraft manufacturing plant and the giant hangar in which the Spruce Goose was constructed. Gehry said he had planned to move into one of the smaller hangars on property that Maguire has been trying to purchase for his commercial development.

But Maguire has yet to complete the acquisition, and with the commercial real estate market in a deep slump, any development on the property is still years away, say industry observers.

Gehry has said he remains supportive of Playa Vista, but environmentalists said his decision to locate elsewhere amounts to another setback for the long-delayed commercial portion of the project and gives them more time to have the property dedicated for open space.

"We are grateful that he's not going in," said Marsha Hanscom, executive director of the Wetlands Action Network.

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