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Culver City Is Booming But Housing, Retail Still Weak Points

Even before the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the resilience of content-creating companies, Culver City was sitting pretty, with office projects in its boundaries locking down big-name tenants like Amazon Studios, HBO and Apple.

As the 39,000 population city’s upward trajectory as a media hub continues, though, it needs to be careful not to leave housing behind. 

“The thing that’s holding Culver City back is that the prevailing starting point for density is out of date and too low compared to other cities surrounding it, and that is why it empties out at night,” James Suhr & Associates founder Jim Suhr said during a panel on major developments in Culver City at Bisnow's Culver City State of the Market digital summit.

A rendering of Ivy Station near the Expo Line's Culver City station.

Culver City has become a magnet for major content companies. HBO announced in 2019 that it would move its headquarters to Ivy Station, a mixed-use project designed by KFA Architecture and developed by Lowe, AECOM-Canyon Partners and Rockwood Capital.

In 2018, Apple signed on to occupy an office building along Washington Boulevard and in December locked down five more adjacent buildings. Amazon Studios is slated to move into an expanded and renovated Culver Studios, which is expected to be complete this year.

Runyon Group co-founder Joseph Miller noted that Culver City’s population roughly doubles during the workday.

“Balancing that out so that it’s not being flooded during the day and evacuated in the evenings” is something that would benefit the neighborhood and that adding more housing would help achieve, Miller said. 

Culver City is not an inexpensive place in which to live. Rents for a one-bedroom apartment averaged about $2.3K per month, according to rental data from apartment listings site Zumper. According to listings site RENTCafé, the average rent across all unit types is about $2.5K.

Building and maintaining housing that hits a wide range of price points is key, speakers said.

Preserving the existing stock of older buildings that function as the city’s de facto affordable housing stock is critical to meeting the need for housing across a variety of price ranges, Suhr noted. 

“If we start plowing those under and building new, in whatever density level the city may allow in a future general plan, we’re never going to catch up to the need for all the price points on housing,” Suhr said.

KFA Architecture partner Jonathan Watts added that smaller projects, like an eight-unit small-lot project he was recently approached about, can play an important role in making sure a variety of price points are provided for residents.

“Not everyone can plunk down the money for 100 units,” Watts said, and with larger projects taking years and years to complete, smaller projects can yield housing that has a lower cost for the eventual resident.

Housing isn’t the only thing that Culver City is missing. Panelists said that supporting unique small businesses is key to keeping and inviting the kind of authenticity that is required to help Culver City grow the best way.

The city needs a “critical mass” of retail stores, Rick Moses Development President Rick Moses said, but he cautioned that not just any old retail will do.

“It’s really crucial to keep in mind that the big chains will kill the vibe and the spirit of Culver City,” Moses said. “It’s so important for [retail] to have a local flavor.”

The city’s challenges, though, don’t seem to be holding it back. 

“One of the few markets where investors have looked past the uncertainty [of the pandemic] has been Culver City,” Pendulum Property Partners partner Dan Wagman said.