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Project would create a giant mall complex

Westfield Group plans to build an outdoor shopping village linking its Topanga and Promenade centers in Woodland Hills.

July 19, 2007|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

The sprawling Westfield shopping complex in Woodland Hills promises to become one of the largest in Southern California based on the latest plans from developers eager to build an outdoor village connecting the Topanga and Promenade malls.

The project planned by the Westfield Group would add a third mall, a hotel and residences to Westfield's existing properties in the west San Fernando Valley for a combined 3.8 million square feet of retail, office and residential space.

Plans for the $750-million outdoor village call for a 300-room hotel, 150 condominiums and apartments, offices and 550,000 square feet of shops and restaurants. Westfield officials said they don't plan to include department stores in the new mall.

The Village at Westfield Topanga is expected to attract 10 million visitors a year, on top of the 24 million who shop at Topanga and the Promenade annually. The new development could help Los Angeles boost its retail numbers, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.

"The city of Los Angeles is underperforming in retail," Kyser said Wednesday. "If you look at the per capita retail sales, by population, the city is below the county average. Things like this are good news for everyone who lives in the city. L.A. is fighting back.

"It definitely makes sense because that part of the county has the capacity to support it," Kyser said of the expansion plans. "It has good, quality job growth, and it will become more of a destination shopping mall."

Westfield estimates the village will generate $6 million in sales tax revenue per year and create 7,000 permanent retail jobs, as well as about 2,000 construction jobs.

The Australia-based Westfield filed an environmental assessment Tuesday with the city, the first step in a lengthy approval process in which the project will have to gain the support of neighboring residents and elected officials. Construction could start in two years if the approval process goes smoothly, company officials said.

Councilman Dennis Zine, who represents the area, said he believes the project would enhance the area by providing a gathering place for visitors and residents. The site, currently home to a vacant movie theater and a collection of disparate businesses, has needed a makeover for a long time, he said.

"The area is underutilized," Zine said Wednesday. "We needed to do something with that land that benefits the community, and the village concept is easy to work with."

Zine said he wants the project to include a senior center that would provide a space big enough for community meetings.

A committee of neighborhood organizations and local residents will be appointed to recommend ways to ease traffic congestion, he said.

"Critics will say, 'Traffic, traffic, traffic,' and I admit we need to address the issue," Zine said. "One of the major challenges is how we'll accommodate additional traffic volume."

The new mall would include 4,100 parking spaces, but Westfield officials have not decided how they will connect the three malls so shoppers don't have to get in their car each time they want to go to a different mall.

Preliminary plans call for the construction of pedestrian bridges to connect the three sites.

The Westfield shopping hub is bounded by Vanowen Street on the north, Topanga Canyon Boulevard on the west, Oxnard Street to the south and Owensmouth Avenue to the east.

Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition, a mass transit advocacy group, suggested that the developers build a people mover, much like those used in some airports to carry travelers from the main building to outlying terminals.

"It would be a smart way to get people from here to there," Reed said Wednesday, adding that a people mover would be more feasible than moving sidewalks or pedestrian bridges because of the distance involved. "They could even have carts on board to hold their packages."

Shoppers at the Topanga Mall on Wednesday said they feared that the project would create congestion and gave the proposal mixed reviews.

"Do we really need another mall? Two malls is already too much. Traffic is awful," said Iris Brown of Calabasas, who was leaving Nordstrom.

"It's overkill," said Samara Frame, 29, of Topanga. "Everything in Woodland Hills is chains anyway. We don't need anymore chain stores. What's the freaking point?"

But Bob Pritchard, 64, and his wife Susie, 59, who are from Australia and have lived in Woodland Hills for many years, joked that Westfield's expansion would be good for the Australian economy.

They said they would support the idea if it included high-end dining, like they've seen at a Westfield mall in Sydney.

"I'm surprised there's enough businesses for it," Bob Pritchard said of the proposed mall.

Stephanie Collier, 22, of Calabasas, who sat outside the mall eating a frozen yogurt, said she welcomed the idea.

"I'm excited," she said. "It's easier to go to one place to do all your shopping."

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amanda.covarrubias@latimes.com

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