Cohen Brothers, MTA Reach Exclusive Agreement For Proposed Mega Complex at WeHo Depot

A “preliminary conceptual development view” of the proposed project shows how the 10.9-acre site would look from Santa Monica Boulevard. Cohen Brothers is proposing to build a multi-building complex in place of the current MTA depot. Included in the project would be office space in two high-rises, residential/hotel space, retail shops, a theater complex, an open amphitheater and a new sheriff’s station.

Pacific Design Center owner Charles Cohen has entered into an exclusive agreement with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to present proposals for developing a massive multi-use complex, comparable to Century City’s mall, with office, hotel, residential and retail space on the MTA bus depot lot on the southeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and San Vicente Boulevard in West Hollywood.

The proposed project would cover 10.9 acres, the equivalent of 10 football fields, and extend beyond the scope of many other LA shopping centers like The Grove, in nearby Los Angeles, or Americana at Brand, in Glendale.

At its Jan. 16 meeting, the MTA’s Planning and Programming Committee approved a two-year exclusive negotiating agreement with Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation of California (CBRCC) to create a master plan for a mixed-use development on the 8.4-acre lot, immediately north of the Pacific Design Center (PDC). The plan also absorbs the 2.5 acre West Hollywood sheriff’s station lot, bringing the entire project to 10.9 acres.

The full 13-member Metro Board also approved the exclusive agreement on the consent calendar at its Jan. 24 meeting.

Cohen Brothers proposes to build a 280-space, three-level underground garage for MTA bus storage, maintenance and operations, then create a multi-building complex atop that garage. That complex would include 400,000 square feet of commercial office space in two high-rise towers, 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, plus a 50,000-square-foot sheriff’s station.

Charles Cohen did not immediately return WEHOville’s request for comment, but during a Jan 21 phone interview he denied having any plans for the site.

“We are of course interested in it (the MTA lot) in a neighborly way, we would like to see it developed in a proper and responsible way,” Cohen said. He later added, “We have no plans for that site.”

However, according to the staff report for the Jan. 16 MTA Planning and Programming Committee meeting, Cohen Brothers submitted an unsolicited proposal in October 2011 informing the MTA it had the experience and the financial capacity to replace the existing bus depot and build a mixed-use project.

No other proposals for the lot were considered because the MTA didn’t request any. According to the staff report, MTA CEO Arthur T. Leahy made a “finding that the CBRCC proposal meets the principles of exception from the competitive solicitation process.” The report does not spell out what those “principles of exception” are, but it does say that the PDC’s location next to the area gives Cohen Brothers “unique advantages.” Cohen Brothers “possesses a significantly enhanced ability to provide a feasible project plan,” it says.

Since the sheriff’s lot is owned by Los Angeles County, any development on that lot would require approval from the LA County Board of Supervisors.

It is not clear if Cohen Brothers has approached the county yet, but three of the five supervisors (Mark Ridley-Thomas, Gloria Molina and Michael Antonovich) sit on the five-member MTA Planning and Programming Committee.

The sheriff’s station was built in 1980, and designed for approximately 110 staff members. The sheriff’s station currently houses a staff of 183 people and reserves of 75 additional staff members. Sheriff’s personnel stated at the June 18, 2012 West Hollywood city council meeting that there is so little room left in the building that some deputies keep equipment in the trunk of their personal cars.

If the county approves use of the sheriff’s lot, Cohen Brothers would then commission an environmental impact report (EIR). Public hearings about the site would also be held, but an exact timetable for those hearings is not yet known.

In 2008, following inquiries about possible joint development options for the lot, the MTA commissioned architectural firm RNL Design to evaluate the site for “potential transit-oriented mixed-use development.” The study, completed in 2009, declared the cost was “too high for a private development to support and remain viable.”

The staff report does not say who made those inquiries in 2008, but Cohen has long been rumored to be interested in the site according to WEHOville design critic Gustave Heully.

While the exclusive negotiating agreement lasts two years, the plan approved allows for two six-month extensions. Under the agreement, the MTA bus depot must remain fully operational during any construction. The MTA is leaving it up to Cohen Brothers to submit an “interim operating plan,” which could include continued use of the current site, a separately located site, or both.

The site would be developed in multiple phases, the underground bus depot being would be the first phase. As part of the agreement, Cohen Brothers would provide the MTA full compensation for any increased operating costs during construction and operation of the project.

Cohen Brothers has hired the LA-based architecture firm Gruen Associates, which designed the PDC under the leadership of renowned architect Cesar Pelli (who was Gruen’s director of design in the 1970s), to come up with plans for the site.

The MTA lot was originally the depot for the streetcar line owned by the Los Angeles Pacific Railway. After the streetcar was discontinued, the northern portion of the site was transferred to the MTA. The current lot was built in 1976 with space for 250 buses plus 275 cars in the parking deck immediately adjacent to Santa Monica Boulevard.

The southern portion of that lot was sold to create the Pacific Design Center. The Blue building opened in 1975, the Green building in 1988 and the Red building is set to open later this year. Cohen Brothers bought the PDC in 1999 for $165 million.

The city of West Hollywood has had its eye on the MTA lot for years. Part of the city’s 2012-2014 budget included a $212,000 feasibility study for moving city hall to that corner and incorporating a new sheriff’s station into the new city hall building.

During that June 18, 2012 meeting, Councilmember John Duran spoke of his dream for the MTA and sheriff’s lots, saying he had long envisioned having the south side of Santa Monica Boulevard look like the north side of the street, lined with shops and businesses. Duran, who is up for reelection in the March 5 election, has made developing the MTA lot one of his campaign talking points.

WEHOville design critic Gustave Heully contributed to this story.

  1. I don’t think they can go three levels down, jax. that’s why the library structure is above ground. The water table is too high. I am still LMAO that they all sat at council and said they did not know this was happening. LOL. Good one. Although, if it is true they did not know…why are they running the city? I suspect there have been more than one “back room meeting” between Cohen, Heilman and Arevalo…remember that $250,000 study to see if City Hall could go on that corner? How is this scenario…”You put City Hall in your complex on that corner and you can build whatever you want. But, shhhh, don’t tell anybody.”

  2. obviously the people behind these mega-complex plans have no ‘quality of life’ concerns for the citizens of west hollywood.
    there’s no way that area could absorb the traffic it would create. santa monica blvd is already in grid lock from doheny to la brea.

  3. Personally I think they should have built more park space with a small amphitheater, dog park …and built an extra wide grass/pedestrian bridge connecting the east and west sides of San Vincente.( Or better yet,really go for a radical transformation and dig a tunnel for SV blvd from SM blvd to Melrose and convert that all that road into community open park space.

  4. It’s an abomination. La Cienega in Spanish means The Swamp. There are loads of underground springs around there. Seems to me that an underground parking garage would sink in an earthquake. Vote for Steve Martin; I knew him in 1984 when we both were fighting for Cityhood!

  5. In Spanish, La Cienega means: Swamp! That land is loaded with Springs. An underground bus garage will sink in an earthquake. It’s a monstrosity. Vote for Steve Martin. I know him very well, as I was a founding charter member of the West Hollywood Democratic Club in 1984.

  6. OK, a little history. The MTA yard used to extend as far south as Melrose and west to San Vicente. The majority of the time since it was built was for the Pacific Electric which was a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific R.R. The yard passed hands to the Metropolitan Coach Line in 1953 and five years later to the OLD MTA. The OLD MTA thru legislation became the RTD then the MTA. The S. P. retained ownership of the property until it was sub divided and selling the current yard to the OLD MTA. S. P.’s subsidiary developed the PDC Blue Whale.

    It is my belief the developer made a design mistake with the Red Building and it sits to close to the MTA property line. During construction MTA gave the construction company access to the north side of the Red building. From what I have seen up to about a year ago there was no way to access the building without going on to MTA property which I doubt they would allow due to safety reasons and lose of parking along the south fence.

    The MTA just began construction of a new division on current property with a terminal on the top level and the division yard on the bottom level. I don’t believe is was ever economical previously along with the weight of about 20 or 30 buses being parked on the upper level.

    Building a large development over an large bus yard with few pillars is going to be a structural nightmare unless the MTA drops the ball and OK’s a unworkable design which they have been guilty of in the past. I’m sure Art Leahy will have a lot of input so as these mistakes do not occur as they did prior to his return to the MTA. He, unlike his predecessors, is not only a good administrator but rose thru the ranks of the RTD from Bus Operator.

    The proposed development will result in a traffic nightmare. But remember the city purposely redesigned Santa Monica Bl. to slow traffic down. There are no bus stop pockets and in fact the curbing adjacent to bus stops extend out into traffic lanes at many locations resulting in buses holding up traffic in the number two traffic lane.

  7. Spent way to much time in bumper to bumper traffic from BH and CC to East WEHO on St. Monica…..agree on need for some kind of subway connection for WEHO. Blind politicos don’t see the obvious old red line right of ways they have allowed to be sold or given away.

  8. This is the worst idea I’ve heard in a while. We should be focusing on keeping high-end boutique, eco-conscious, venues in town not building mega complexes like we’re some city off the freeway with nothing else to offer! LA has plenty of malls and movie theaters people can drive to already.

    1. Robert is absolutely correct. I did misspeak and I apologize to the people in WeHo who have the sense to fight this.
      However I don’t think Gay Meccas have to fade. What we need are housing plans that create gay friendly communities. A mixture of single bedroom units, two bedroom, etc. Not every gay couple wants children and not every gay person wants to be a we instead of a me. Build affordable housing that suits the lifestyles of those you want you to attract to your city. This project doesn’t do that. It doesn’t make you a destination it just makes you like more of the same.

  9. someone please tell the MTA that they must hold off on this agreement until we finish our ‘feasibility study’. after all john duran has a dream and we are paying for it (and his lunch).

  10. I thought I was in the speechless category and then discovered otherwise.
    What a crock. What a monstrous, criminal, dog crap, CROCK!
    West Hollywood is “dying” not because of the “finite” number of people who want to live there. It’s because no one can afford to live there and if you do live there you have to have a car because the public transportation is barely third world in quality.
    If they want to develop this piece of land there is only one way to use it. I understand this won’t be done because the sick queens who have made themselves millionaires sitting on the WeHo Council don’t seem to give a rats ass about the city they live in but here goes my suggestion:

    1) Don’t build anything unless it links to the Subway. Don’t let it link to the Subway unless the construction on the subway link to 3rd Street, Century City AND the Airport is being built. Even if it loses money it is worth it to get whatever cars off the street that it does.
    2) Only agree if the MTA actually increases the numbers of buses on the roads. Has anybody actually tried to take a bus lately? They punish you for it. And God forbid a senior, like a friend of mine, try to use the “new” worthless card system.
    3) Small street facing shops/markets I’m okay with. NO “big box” stores period. How much economic data do you need to see what the result of big box development is? This is just stupid.
    4) A mixture of Public/Private housing. Like in Singapore. The reason “young gays” don’t live in WeHo is that they are not rich. Those who happen to have good jobs also realize very quickly that what you get for your money in WeHo is a little better than theft. Give people of all income levels the chance to buy apartment and you will build a community.

    I know I’m wasting my time. This ugly monster will be built and will be just as useless as the red ugly monster they just built. Really you folks who live in WeHo should get your heads examined this is the absolute worst idea you guys have had since your last horrible idea!

    1. Christopher Hull’s only misstatement is when he says “you folks who live in WeHo should get your heads examined this is the absolute worst idea you guys have had since your last horrible idea!” The proposal isn’t the idea of the people of WeHo, and I doubt few of us want or support it. However, it will be the fault of the people of WeHo if this monstrosity gets built; it is essential that we protest it with all our vigor so the City Council knows where the people stand.

      As for DXP, his view as to why WeHo’s “Gay Mecca” is fading is contradicted by his explanation of why such so-called meccas are disappearing all across the country. Acceptance brings assimilation and a lesser need for safety in numbers. Also, the move to relocate the post office has nothing to do with Beverly Hills or West Hollywood. That’s a cost-saving plan of the United States Postal Service.

  11. @ABc – you could have saved all those key strokes and just stuck with your one sentence…”Traffic is a disaster.”

  12. Boy’s Town in WeHO has been dying for years. The mainstreaming of the Gay Community has nullified the need to for so called Gay Meccas. This is not a recent movement, but more a of carefully thought out development plan to transform Boy’s Town into a family and retail environment. Years ago I heard talk of just such plans, and how the Gay Community was no longer a viable economic stimulus to the area. The rise in crime, drugs, public obscenity acts, and attraction to the homeless were part of it also. The nightlife scene which used to be a once upon a time financial fountain, had transformed into more of headache for Law Enforcement and Local Residents than the benefits it provides. Small retail shops open and close at alarming rates. The Pride Festival started loosing money every year, and also has become more of hindrance than help.

    With Beverly Hills busting at the seams, it just made since to expand into the West WeHo area. The first started by chasing all the Gay Youth off, then made the clubs go 21+, and finally started making it hard for Gay businesses to survive. Then you had the Pavilions makeover, then Red Building at the PDC, the make over of the Library and Park, and now this new development. It does not take a Rocket Scientist to see what is happening.

    They are moving The Post Office, and I’ll bet they will get rid of the huge medians, and oversized sidewalk to expand Santa Monica Blvd into 6 lanes (3 Eastbound and 3 Westbound) to accommodate the increased traffic. Let’s face it, all of Los Angeles County is not known for being traffic or parking friendly. They will never place that above expansion of commercial properties and development.

    The Boy’s Town WeHo is on life support, will shortly be completely done, and will never return. Do you really believe they are going to allow all the Gay Bars and Clubs that are becoming eye sores, non-profitable, and attracting a crowd that is let’s say not up to the caliber of their vision for the area to continue for much longer? People can challenge what I am saying. If you look logically at the facts, it is painfully obvious what is going on. I am glad I got to be part of WeHo before the decline, and glad I escaped before it totally sinks. This trend is happening all over the country, and not exclusive to WeHo. Gay Meccas are over. Might as well face reality that money talks, and principals/loyalties go right out the window when greed and superficiality are involved. R.I.P. WeHo

  13. More hotel space? Fine. Hotels don’t generate a lot of peak hour traffic and many of their workers don’t drive to work. With hotel rooms nearby going for $200 a night, more competition would reduce the cost of hotel stays in the area and make it easier for people to visit the city, especially during busy weekends like pride, as long as this development can utilize the easement on the east side of the PDC when SMB and SVB are closed. Cheaper hotels are good for public safety because they reduce drunk driving, and they would be good for club-goers to patronize on the spur of the moment. Overall, hotels are one of the best commercial developments for this part of the city.

    More retail? It depends. If it’s ground level, street facing and neighborhood oriented, more competition will reduce rents. Other businesses in the area won’t be badly harmed; whatever they lose in sales, they make up for in cheaper rent. But if the retail is big box or mall style, it won’t have any positive impact on the area. It will just shift stores around (away from Robertson or Sunset Plaza), leaving some areas in decline and this area clogged with people who don’t patronize the community outside the walls of the mall. A small theater would be a nice addition to the area’s amenities and encourage more visitors to stay longer in the neighborhood.

    More office space? No way. Not that there’s any guarantee it would ever be leased, with the PDC half vacant. West Hollywood is not an accessible area. There are no freeways or subways nearby. Traffic is a disaster. There aren’t enough wealthy business owners living in the immediate area who think they can coerce their workers into a nightmare commute just so the owners don’t have to drive very far. One can imagine the city council deciding it has a duty to occupy the empty building and hire dozens of city workers to occupy it just so the developer doesn’t go bankrupt on it.

    More housing? Maybe. The number of people wanting to live in West Hollywood is finite, so more housing competition will create more affordable housing and encourage property owners to invest in upgrades. It needs to be kept away from the boulevards and people moving there need to understand they’re in a noisy, 24/7 nightlife district. No complaining, no petitions to shut down businesses, no calls to the sheriff for noise. The municipal code needs to be amended for this. There needs to be a way for people to get in and out when the boulevards are shut down for festivals.

    Roads need to be upgraded. Unlike at the traffic disaster that is the Target and Best Buy complex on the east side of WeHo, there needs to be bus turnouts, dedicated right turn lanes and other upgrades to reduce gridlock.

    Overall, there’s potential for this parcel to be developed into something great for the city. As long as it’s for the city, not just something dropped into the middle of it.

  14. WOW!!!
    It’s amazing that Charles Cohen said there were no plans for the site two weeks ago.
    Good thing he has a lobbyist….
    and, interesting, that his lobbyist is Steve Afriat.

  15. YUP, there goes all of the gay bars and the pride festival in WEHO….the writing has been on the wall for quite a while, so i can’t honestly say i’m shocked….WEHO IS FOR SALE!!….PLEASE DONATE TO OUR CITY COUNCIL AND GET ANYTHING YOUR HEART DESIRES…

  16. This is all about what’s good for the Coen Bros., not the people of West Hollywood. There’s no way the traffic this size project would generate can be supported by our already over-congested streets. This is truly appalling.

  17. This makes no sense…”The MTA lot was originally the depot for the streetcar line owned by the Los Angeles Pacific Railway. After the streetcar was discontinued, the northern portion of the site was transferred to the MTA”…so now we want to use that very space originally designed to provide efficient public transportaiton to make our traffic torment a nightmare with absolutely no way to provide adequate public transportation for this “massive multi-use complex, comparable to Century City’s mall.” Gimme a break!

    Vote YES on Measure C for Term Limits and STEVE MARTIN for City Council.

  18. Wonderful news! This sounds like an amazing project that would enhance West Hollywood as a destination city while providing economic growth for the current residents to enjoy! I am glad the PDC owner will be coordinating with the designed of WeHo’s most iconic building to create another stunning addition to the city. Now we will have major retail anchors for the eastside, northside and westside.

    Yes in my backyard!

  19. Typical West Hollywood development project–completely violating the zoning and the wishes and needs of the people. If this is going to be like The Grove then I invite anyone to look at the immense snarl The Grove has caused to traffic for miles around. We don’t need another gigantic project in this middle of this small city. And for what? So some avaricious developers can stuff even more profit money into tax-sheltered trust funds. There is no need for this monstrosity. Now is the time to kill it–in its cradle.

  20. I’m stunned by this announcement. While I’ve been wishing for redevelopment of this corner, and I’d LOVE a movie theater, I can’t imagine a project this size is compatible with the area and how it could be be viable UNLESS it is also a subway stop, a spur on SMB from the Red or Purple line. We are told that that isn’t happening, so if something like this development were to happen, the intersection of SMB and San Vicente would be a total goat f$#^,

    Regardless, it’s MUCH too ambitious and much too big. Maybe it’s all a trial balloon and once the outrage subsides, they will present the real plan, much scaled down (but still to big) and then we will all be grateful it’s been downsized.

    For me it would be great. I’m in easy walking distance to it, but to everyone else, it’s an unmitigated disaster.

    Doesn’t anyone wonder how the Cohen Bros can develop this parcel when the brand new Red building has been vacant since it was completed a year ago and there is plenty of empty space in the Blue building. I’d like to see what happens to traffic in the ‘hood when the Red building is fully leased. I’d also like to see what kind of economic engine it can be for West Hollywood. Will a fully-leased Red Building have a positive impact on Boystown? Will the restaurants have lots more business (both lunch and dinner)? Does The Abbey need any more cash?

  21. Enough is enough…we have so much traffic and it would make Doheny/Santa Monice even more conguested. Why don’t you start with how traffic will work?

  22. This is another reason why Steve Martin should be re-elected, and the most important one yet. I don’t understand why the people of West Hollywood would vote to support the continued suffocation of our neighborhoods. We know that the aging party boy John Duran has never met a development that didn’t send a thrill up his leg, and the size of this one must have him creaming his jeans. This is also the best reason yet why we need to vote “Yes on Measure C” to enact term limits on March 5. Otherwise, it will only be more of the same.

  23. While the scale is out out place with the retail/restaurant shops in boys town, it’s truly unfortunate the lack of integration into the community. Why build a city within a city when we can use this land to create the heart of West Hollywood. This shouldn’t be a stand-alone destination, closed off to the neighboring streets. It would be nice if there were more open spaces (mirroring the parking across the street) and free parking (cars + bike rikes) provided for the surrounding business so people may park and walk instead of being trapped in a grove-on-steroids complex. Furthermore, the fact there would be any retail onsite is insulting. The total retail square footage between Robertson and Hancock is less than 120,000 SF. Why double this amount? Even if you bring residents and businesses onsite, the additional square footage will severely hurt local business- the businesses on Santa Monica Blvd already took a hit during the recession. The Cohen Brothers will hire a consultant to “estimate” the amount of sales tax and transit occupancy tax from the hotels and discuss the “benefits to the community,” however, retail and hospitality is zero-sum game. They will merely shift revenue from the local retailers (which tends to get recycled back into the community) to the future big-box retailers onsite and from the existing hotels to their hotel. The sales tax revenue will be a fraction of the net income provided to the Cohen Brothers and national retailers that the CB will seek to bring to the site. When the ultimate profits are repatriated to the corporate HQ (outside of Weho), it will be a net drain on the community and current stakeholders. The Grove killed Melrose and this project, in its current state, will do the same to Santa Monica Blvd. Shame on the City of West Hollywood if they don’t correct this.

  24. Holy Overdevelopment, Batman! Isn’t the Red Bldg. still without tenants? This also begs the question WHY is it that the City of West Hollywood budgeted $250,000 dollars for a feasibility study to develop that corner for a new city Hall and sheriff’s station? What gives? Can we get our money back from the consultants? Now that area of our small city can experience what is going on, over on the east side of town, building, building, building. OMG! Chicken Little was right.

  25. So rent doubles on the street – and the entire profile of the neighborhood, its bars, restaurants, and community goes with it?

  26. I would love to have a Theater Complex I could walk to. There would be no reason to drive to the Grove anymore.

  27. Fine news but also troubllng when I read words like mega complex and beyond the scope of many other LA shopping centers. SMB is two lanes east and west and how can it accomodate the traffic loads. Century City is surrounded by streets with more than two lanes. The streets feeding The Grove are not as accomodating as those supporting Century City and we’ve all experienced the nightmare Grove traffic conjestion as a result. SMB and Melrose are even smaller than Beverly and Third. Don’t believe me, try to drive SMB this coming Saturday afternoon and when you’re doing 15 mph, imagine the additonal traffic load with shoppers coming to a mega complex.

  28. Right there with you Riley… WOW… SPEECHLESS. Is this a dream come true for the current city council (based on the tremendous growth they built into the new general plan) and OUR worst nightmare come true? Sorry, but the only other thing I can say at the moment is… WOW!

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