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The Future of Culver City

On Tuesday, a standing-room crowd at Bisnow's Future of Culver City heard an all-star panel of developers and brokers discuss what's making Culver City a magnet for new investment: central location on the Westside, the Expo Line extension, and a business-friendly city government seeking solutions to the parking issue. (Cars that fold to park?)

Over 350 attended our first afternoon event in LA at PMI Properties' Eastham Station, 3525 Eastham Dr in the Hayden Tract in Culver City. (No, we didn't skimp out on chairs; some people managed to grab a seat.)

In opening remarks, Culver City City Councilman Andrew Weissman gave an overview of development activity, including nearly $300M in former redevelopment projects that are proceeding toward implementation. Some highlights: The City has created a new TOD district encompassing one-half mile around the new Expo station, and looking to connect it with adjacent districts through pedestrian amenities, car- and bike-sharing, and (hopefully) a shuttle. Additionally, Culver City's working on new ways to enhance high-speed Internet service and provide parking to help grow its creative office districts. Case in point: a new fiber optic plan to bring down the last-mile costs, and a recently approved parking district for the Hayden Tract.

Samitaur Constructs partner Frederick Smith notes his firm is one of the oldest developers in Culver City, having worked here non-stop since 1991. One thing that's attracting companies to Culver City is the community—the tenants themselves, he says. After many years of doing "normal" development, Samitaur builds slowly—one building at a time—because it's interested in architectural excellence. Developers' favorite projects are always their most recent one. Frederick cites Pterodactyl, an office project he's been working on with Eric Owen Moss, which is "redefining what a building is."

WNM Realty president Wally Marks notes most people know his company because of the Helms Bakery Building. (Angelenos of a certain age remember the iconic Helms Bakery trucks tooling around their neighborhoods.) His family's been involved in restoring the beloved historic building since 1971. “When you have a building where people come up and say 'I remember when,' you can't miss.” He says connectivity including the Expo Line extension is crucial for keeping tenants here. "The empowerment of not having to use a car to get around is huge."

PMI Properties CTO Jeffrey Elliot Palmer says his firm, one of the pioneers of creative offices, is now trying to apply the same panache and techniques to the creative apartment space. According to Jeffrey, Culver City is the only Westside city that's business-friendly and offers some of the most affordable housing for Millennials. In addition, he says it's an entertainment capital and a tech capital, and the two are coming together. Noting that Maker Studios, a start-up near Eastham Station, recently was acquired by Disney, he says Playa Vista may have Google and YouTube, but "Culver City is hatching the companies that they're going to buy, eventually."

Playing off of Jeffrey's comments, Hackman Capital CEO Michael Hackman says it almost feels like a land grab. "These companies up north that were terrific at engineering and developing systems are realizing that to get eyeballs, they need content." Down here in SoCal we have a lot of creative folks, he notes, and it seems that one media company after another is driving business here. Additionally, location and traffic are two important factors for tenants in Culver City, given its accessibility by the 405 and 10 freeways as well as the Expo Line. However, parking is a huge component of creative office, and the tenants that are in this market want parking beyond code.

Lowe Enterprises Real Estate Group SVP Thomas Wulf says the future of Culver City lies in mixed-use developments that take advantage of transit—creating a live-work-play environment that adds to an area's walkability. He notes that Expo Line ridership already exceeds expectations with just Phase I open (and 6.6 miles and seven stations to go in Phase 2). Lowe's in the early stages of a 5.5-acre redevelopment at Washington and National; it'll include a 200k SF office building with ground-floor retail and restaurant amenities, a 150-room boutique four-star hotel likely with a roof deck and pool, residential units, and a public park.

Newmark Grubb Knight Frank director Kevin Lachoff works all over the Westside, primarily representing owners and sellers, but he wakes up and goes to bed in Culver City. He's a city planning commissioner and will be 2015 chair of the Chamber of Commerce. Kevin says parking, underscored by the fact our attendees had to park off-site and be shuttled in, is an issue that the city's tackling.

According to DTZ EVP Brad Gross, while Fox Hills (also known as Corporate Pointe) is dying for a freshening up, it could be Culver City's next emerging submarket. A rendering by Gensler for a parcel at 700 Corporate Pointe would be the first vertical creative spec office building. “Whoever steps up and acquires that land and builds that building is really going to break new ground for that market.” Creative space has been redevelopment of existing product, but there isn't any new ground-up, forward-thinking creative space being built, he says.

Freeman, Freeman & Smiley partner Damon Juha served as our moderator. He says Culver City is what it is today in large part due to the members of the panel, who have played key parts in revitalizing the City.

One of our event sponsors, NRG eVgo, just installed 60 electric vehicle charging stations for Sony Pictures Entertainment, the largest corporate installation of EV charging stations in SoCal. The company, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, also will manage the stations, located on Sony Picture's historic lot and its offices in Culver City. NRG eVgo VP Terry O'Day says the project shows that EV charging at work is no longer a novelty but a necessity for quality employers. In 2008, Sony began offering "eco-incentives" to employees who purchase a qualifying hybrid, plug-in hybrid electric, or electric vehicle; more than 300 vehicles have been purchased through the program to date.