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Luxury Wrapped In Gridlock

A Waldorf-Astoria hotel at a congested Beverly Hills intersection? Residents are polarized.

January 19, 2007|Kimi Yoshino and Martha Groves | Times Staff Writers

It's the height of ritziness: Waldorf-Astoria meets 90210.

The storied New York hotel -- an Art Deco landmark that inspired Cole Porter songs and even a salad -- is lending its name to a Beverly Hills project that is stirring up nightmares among traffic-weary residents.

Property owner Beny Alagem and Hilton Hotels Corp. on Thursday unveiled a revised $500-million plan to add more cachet to the swank intersection at Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, home to the Beverly Hilton and within a champagne flute's throw of the posh Peninsula Hotel.

Some business boosters are salivating: "It is so Beverly Hills," said Dan Walsh, chief executive of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce. "Waldorf-Astoria is iconic in nature. The whole concept is so correct for Beverly Hills."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday January 23, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 63 words Type of Material: Correction
Waldorf in Beverly Hills: An article in Friday's Section A about a proposed Waldorf-Astoria hotel and traffic concerns in Beverly Hills said the plan would add four traffic lanes -- two on Santa Monica Boulevard, one on Wilshire Boulevard and one on Merv Griffin Way. There will be two additional lanes on Wilshire, one on Santa Monica and one on Merv Griffin Way.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday January 27, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Beverly Hills hotel: A Jan. 19 article in Section A about a proposal to build a Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Beverly Hills quoted Beverly Hills Mayor Stephen Webb as saying that he looked forward to seeing the project and that adding a hotel instead of a condohotel would increase city revenue. Webb says he has not seen the plan's specifics and reserves judgment on whether traffic and other concerns would be addressed adequately for him to approve.

But residents are bemoaning the idea of dumping more traffic into the gridlocked area, and preservationists are fighting the probable demise of tiki hot spot Trader Vic's.

The hotel and condominium project was initially announced last year without the Waldorf and still faces hurdles, even though developers announced concessions Thursday and pledged to add traffic lanes to ease congestion. The new plan probably will be voted on in the fall.

"This so far exceeds the village aspect of what the people of Beverly Hills want," said Robert Tanenbaum, president of the Beverly Hills North Homeowners Assn. and a former mayor. "We're not looking to transport 49th Street and Park Avenue to Beverly Hills."

Traffic on Wilshire, particularly after 1 p.m., is jammed, and more development is proposed or under construction in Century City and Beverly Hills, including 252 condominiums slated next door to the Beverly Hilton at the site of the shuttered Robinsons-May department store. The eight-story Montage Hotel -- sister of the resort in Laguna Beach -- is being built less than a mile away, and Casden Properties plans another Wilshire project nestled between Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York.

"How on Earth can you put in all this additional density and height ... and not wind up with one huge parking lot?" Tanenbaum said.

Kevin Hughes, president of the Cheviot Hills Homeowners Assn., said the notion of a splashy hotel and luxury residences had a "feeling of the city being fed and fed until it pushes itself away from the table.... Without any solution to the traffic issue, how in the world are we contemplating further development?"

Hilton executives and technology magnate Alagem, along with his company Oasis West Realty, envision the nine-acre property with two luxury condo buildings housing 90 residences that average about 3,500 square feet. The Waldorf-Astoria would have 120 rooms, 30 privately owned condos and a fine-dining restaurant. A free-standing three-story wing of 50 rooms and a convention center would be added to the Beverly Hilton, which has a glitzy ballroom used for events such as the Golden Globes.

Alagem said his staff had met with hundreds of residents and community leaders. As a result, he scrapped an original plan to build a condo-hotel (where rooms would be rented to guests when their owners are away) and replaced it with the Waldorf-Astoria.

The total number of condos in the hotel and two towers was reduced to 120 from 200. The revamped design calls for buildings to be set back farther onto the property, starting lower and building up to a maximum of 14 stories. More trees, fountains, sculpture gardens and public art would add to the landscaping and open space, he said.

The plan would add four traffic lanes: two on Santa Monica Boulevard, one on Wilshire Boulevard and one on Merv Griffin Way.

"I look forward to seeing the project, as I'm sure the community as a whole does," Beverly Hills Mayor Stephen Webb said. Vince Bertoni, the city's acting community development director, said staff would carefully consider traffic and how to mitigate it.

Webb said that adding a hotel in place of the condo-hotel would increase city revenue through taxes levied on hotel stays.

When Oasis West Realty bought the Beverly Hilton from Merv Griffin in December 2003, the hotel was generating about $2.3 million in bed-tax revenue for the city. In 2006, after a major renovation, it generated nearly $5 million. If the Waldorf-Astoria is approved, the combined annual bed-tax revenue is likely to jump to $9 million in its first years of operation, Oasis West President Ted Kahan said.

Some critics said city officials weren't thinking far enough ahead.

"There is no overall vision going on right now, none," said Monique Kagan, a member of the California Country Club Homes Assn. traffic committee. "There's no politician showing any backbone on this."

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