By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
A much misunderstood feasibility study by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Sheriff’s Department, Metro and Cohen Bros. Realty Corporation of California to develop the nearly 11 acre County site in West Hollywood’s Boystown became reality last month on a three to two vote.
Initially portrayed by one local media source as a “plan” to develop the plot, a mischaracterization that caused an uproar with city council members and staff crying foul over a supposed County failure to seek city input before moving ahead, the proposal came to the Board in unsolicited form from Cohen Bros., the city’s largest landlord and tax payer, in 2011.
“The 1.2 million square foot development is anticipated to be built in phases,” according to the staff report, “the exact composition and uses of which will be more fully developed during the land use entitlement, environmental analysis, and consideration period for the proposed development’s assessment and consideration, but may ultimately include a public/private partnership with a mix of residential units, hotel space, commercial office space, government facilities, retail shops, a movie theater complex, an amphitheater, a multi-level garage and a new bus maintenance and operations facility which will replace the existing Metro Division 7 bus facility.
The site, combined with the adjacent PDC campus, is part of the original raison d’être for the existence of West Hollywood, when in 1896 General Moses Sherman bought 5.6 acres of land at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and San Vicente Blvd. for the headquarters, car barn, shop, and powerhouse for his new railroad, the Los Angeles-Pacific, causing the burg of Sherman to form around it.
That rail yard grew to nearly 25 acres, of which the PDC now sits on 14, leaving 10.9 acres on which the current bus depot and sheriff station stand.
If approved and implemented, the proposed development would ensure, to the County’s satisfaction that the County can maintain full Sheriff’s Station operations and services during and after construction.
The purpose of this unsolicited proposal by Cohen Bros. is to enter into an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA), establishing a twenty-four (24) month period with the County in order to assess the feasibility of incorporating the Sheriff’s Station site into its overall development ideas, and allow the parties to engage in exclusive negotiations to establish the terms and conditions for a potential long-term lease agreement.
Contrary to other media reports, “The proposed ENA does not constitute an approval of any project, but merely allows Cohen the opportunity to analyze, study, and design a project and project economics that will ultimately meet with approval from the County, MTA, and the City of West Hollywood who is the zoning and entitlement authority.”
An essential aspect to the agreement is the vision Cohen Bros. brings to the project, as the developer and owner of the Pacific Design Center campus abutting the plot in question.
Mr. Cohen has offered to build a new Sheriff’s station at no cost to the County, and to lease it back on a long-term lease.
According to the staff report, “the present Sheriff’s Station was built in 1980 to accommodate 110 personnel – it now holds 183 plus a volunteer force that numbers 75 – forcing deputies to store gear in their personal autos because the facility cannot accommodate it.
Said the staff report, “The proposed ENA would provide an opportunity for the County to adequately address future issues concerning the existing Sheriff’s Station while assessing the best interests of the County and any beneficial economic opportunities presented by lease of the Sheriff’s Station site.”
The proposal, while still in its infancy, posits placing 400,000 square feet of commercial office space in two high-rise towers along with 600,000 square feet of residential/hotel space, 120,000 square feet of retail shops, a 2,500-seat movie theater complex and an 800-seat open amphitheater.
The Pacific Design Center contains a total of 1.2 million square feet of office, showroom, theater and restaurant space.
The Board has sought from time to time a way to expand the bus depot and Sheriff’s station, but has failed to find a revenue stream to pay for the development.
Mr. Cohen believes that the proximity of PDC to both the MTA and the County’s sites presents a unique opportunity for development that Cohen would like to explore in depth.
While conceptual development designs are still in the preliminary stages, Mr. Cohen envisions the creation of a multi-use development project, which would combine and utilize both the MTA and Sheriff’s Station sites, and is expected to include both public and private sector uses.
Several years ago, as the PDC broke ground on the RedBuilding and Mr. Cohen discussed with Metro easement issues relating to that construction, it occurred to him to inquire with MTA about developing the site to complete the PDC campus.
In November, 2011, then the city’s Director of Community Development, Anne MacIntosh, sent MTA a letter saying that the city supported the redevelopment of the site, because, according to a source in city hall, “they wouldn’t have gone forward if the city didn’t express a desire to see the site redeveloped. [The city] didn’t weigh in on uses, didn’t weigh in on a developer; they just said, yeah, it would be nice to redevelop this site.
Council member John Duran has long advocated for a use of the site that would add nightlife to that “dead” side of Boystown’s famous stretch, as well as condos, apartments and office space to enliven the area during the day.
The City of West Hollywood, citing overcrowding in City Hall, has devoted $212,000 to a feasibility study to find out if the Sheriff’s Station and City Hall could be combined into one, expanded facility.
The agreement comes after years of brainstorming on how to best use the expanse of space in the center of one of the densest parts of the Los Angeles basin. In 2008, the METRO board commissioned a study into possible transit-oriented mixed-use projects, but found that none satisfied the requirement to make a profit.
To plan the project, Cohen Brothers hired Gruen Associates architects, which designed the PDC under the leadership of renowned architect Cesar Pelli.