On December 5th, 2011, the City Council/Redevelopment Agency Board voted unanimously to accept the Combined Properties proposal for Parcel B at 9300 Culver Blvd. – the long-empty lot between Trader Joe’s, the Culver Studios mansion and Culver Hotel in Downtown Culver City.
According to former Culver City Mayor Gary Silbiger, this is at least the third attempt to develop this central plot of public land in the last 25 years.
Designed by Culver City-based Ehrlich Architects, the chosen project distinguishes itself from the other three proposals as the only option without an inner courtyard. This, many believe, is its strength: rather than funneling visitors into the project – and, by extension, away from other downtown businesses – it “activates” the Downtown by encouraging circulation all around the development.
project renderings by Ehrlich Architects
The most noted feature of the project is its “Grand Staircase.” Inspired by the Spanish Steps in Rome and New York City’s Highline, the stairs provide a huge open seating area which may be used for resting, people-watching, and will form amphitheatre-like seating for events such as Culver City’s popular summer concert series.
The developers will apply for LEED status, incorporating a graywater system, solar panels (already mandated by the city), greenroof elements on the elevated plaza, and windows that actually open!
Though I question the need for office space in the heart of Downtown Culver City, and hoped, like many other residents, for a bona fide design competition to attract more attention and stiffer competition for this key piece of public land in Culver City [read more here], ultimately, I believe the chosen project is the best of the four proposals.
- the ample public seating space of the Grand Stair
- the massing (a.k.a. bulk of the building) is on the Washington (Trader Joe’s parking lot) side which is the least interesting side of the lot, as opposed to the other projects which mass on the side of the Culver Studios Mansion
- it’s the only proposal that embraces the Culver Studios Mansion and Culver Hotel: the view from the Plaza is directed toward the Mansion and the Hotel
- it’s also the only proposal that limits car access on the Culver Studios Mansion side – thus maximizing pedestrian access, safety and comfort
The main point of concern with many residents is the flashy North East corner which, in renderings, looks like a mini Times Square. Note that Culver City has a billboard ban (not that one would know it given the huge billboards at the Fox Hills Mall / Westfield Culver City). However, since the proposals were first submitted – and negative input received – the development team has made some changes, which we hope to see soon.
More Westfield-like advertizing???
Going forward, residents need to pay attention to some key points and keep giving input on this vital project as the City prepares to enter into a formal agreement with the developers (called a Disposition and Development Agreement – DDA). According to the 12/05/11 staff report:
“Selecting a developer for negotiation does not commit the City or the Agency to sell the property. That cannot happen unless and until an economic report is first prepared and made available for public review detailing the proposed purchase price and other terms and conditions of the proposed sale, and until further input on the report and proposed sale is first obtained at a noticed public hearing.”
In other words, there is still time to influence the project to ensure that it is done well.
The following concerns were developed by Culver City Downtown Neighborhood Association members, who encourage all residents to continue giving input:
- the developer needs to guarantee the amount of public space and seating in the DDA: if it’s not a binding part of the city contract, we may risk losing the very aspect that attracted support for the project in the first place
- a cluster of shade-providing trees must be a part of the expansion of Town Plaza; therefore the subterranean parking structure must be engineered so as to include full shade trees
- employees must have free or drastically reduced parking either on-site or on the roof of the city’s Ince parking structure; many buildings in the area require tenants to lease parking spaces for their employees, Parcel B must do the same to avoid employee encroachment in residential neighborhoods
- the city should consider leasing the land, rather than selling it: this keeps the property under the city’s control; lease prices increase over time, providing substantial future revenue; the developers will be able to put their money into the development instead of land price, significantly improving the property (which will in turn make it more valuable, bringing in more money for the city, etc. etc.)
- we must ensure that Culver City’s billboard ban is fully respected, and that legal on-site advertizing be downsized, and fitting for Downtown Culver City
See the full proposal here.