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Planned complex aims to help Pacoima neighborhood, entrepreneurs

Developer hopes Zocalito of Pacoima, an open-air market and retail complex targeting small entrepreneurs, will become a template for other areas.

April 17, 2013|Los Angeles Times
  • Cary J. Lefton, chief executive officer for Agora Realty.
Cary J. Lefton, chief executive officer for Agora Realty. (Glenn Koenig, Los Angeles…)

At a busy but nondescript intersection in Pacoima, a real estate developer is trying to help revive the San Fernando Valley neighborhood with an open-air market and retail complex aimed at small entrepreneurs.

The complex on Van Nuys Boulevard at San Fernando Road will be called Zocalito of Pacoima, said developer Cary J. Lefton, chief executive of Sherman Oaks developer Agora Realty & Management Inc.

Zocalito will have walkways and plazas similar to small towns in Mexico when it opens in the fall. The concept has been successful at his company's larger Latino-oriented Plaza del Valle shopping center in Panorama City, Lefton said.

He hopes the new operation will become a template for developments in other neighborhoods where unpolished mom-and-pop operators seek to break out on their own.

The project is being built as a launching pad for first-time restaurateurs and shopkeepers, he said.

"We're looking for maybe someone who works in the back of a restaurant and trying to give them a helpful hand to get in their own business."

The help will not come as a direct subsidy; monthly rents will be above the market average at $2.50 to $6 a square foot. The advantage for tenants, the developer said, is that Agora will build the small restaurant spaces to meet city regulations. The spaces will have commercial-grade electrical and sewer systems and required food service fixtures such as grease interceptors that trap grease before it can flow into the city sewer system.

Lefton calls it a "plug and play" concept that will enable new businesses to rapidly hook up their equipment and hang out an "open" sign. They'll share the complex with two or three national brand tenants that should help draw foot traffic, he said.

Avoiding the upfront costs of preparing a small restaurant to meet building and safety codes can be a lifesaver for entrepreneurs launching on a financial shoestring, said Lefton, who has seen start-ups burn through all their capital trying to set up shop and fail before they can even open their doors.

The 18,000-square-foot Zocalito will have seven restaurant slots. Its 14 shops will be able to easily expand if a tenant's business takes off. At Plaza del Valle, for example, Milo's Pet Shop has grown from 200 square feet to 2,000 square feet since it opened a decade ago, Lefton said.

Zocalito's design is intended to invite people waiting for a bus to come inside, where there will be public restrooms and quick snacks for sale, said the project's architect, Alan Pullman, of Studio One Eleven. "A zocalito is a small public square."

There will be mature trees, landscaping, seating and a kids' play area.

Work begins on Playa Vista city center

Construction is underway on the long-awaited city center for the Playa Vista planned community near Marina del Rey that will include its first grocery store — a Whole Foods Market.

About the size of four city blocks, the $260-million shopping and apartment project called Runway is intended to be the commercial and social heart of the planned community that has been under construction for more than a decade on land south of Marina del Rey once controlled by aviation mogul Howard Hughes.

Playa Vista already has more than 3,200 residences and 2 million square feet of offices but lacks a commercial and social town center.

Runway is set to rise next to Jefferson Boulevard between Village Drive and McConnell Avenue and include a movie theater, "chef-driven" restaurants and shops. Apartments and office spaces are planned to rise above ground-floor retail shops and top out at four stories.

Upscale grocer Whole Foods is to move into a 35,755-square-foot space adjacent to McConnell Avenue on the retail center's ground level. Cinemark Theaters plans to operate a nine-screen theater with self-serve concession stands and an open plaza with a cocktail lounge.

Other planned retailers include CVS Pharmacy and a VeggieGrill, one of a chain of vegetarian restaurants based in Santa Monica. A national bank branch is also in the works.

The project, expected to be completed in less than two years, is being developed by Lincoln Property Co., Phoenix Property Co. and Paragon Commercial Group.

"This project has been a long time coming, so we are excited to be moving to the next stage in the development process and to be that much closer to injecting more energy into this already vibrant community," said David Binswanger, executive vice president of Lincoln Property.

The developers were aided by a new $150-million construction loan through a syndicate of banks led by Bank of America, Binswanger said.

Canopies are to mark entry points to Runway, and small gathering areas will be set up around fountains and fire pits. Included in the design by Los Angeles architecture firm Johnson Fain is a 1,400-car garage accessible from Jefferson.

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