2 Styles Shape Warner Center Substance : Developers Voit and Kravetz Clash as Competitors and as Individuals
As a bored eighth-grader, Robert D. Voit passed the time at prep school planning a tour of Europe. As a college graduate, he took the trip. And, when he got there, he followed that eighth-grade itinerary.
Now a successful developer best known for shaping Warner Center, Voit retains his fervent belief in planning. And it was because he felt it violated the city’s official plan for the area, Voit said, that he fought a Warner Center hotel proposed by rival developer Norman J. Kravetz.
Critics aren’t so sure. Privately, they accuse Voit of trying to avoid competition--a Marriott Hotel will open in February on Voit’s Warner Center property--or suppress a project that might steal his thunder. In any case, Voit lost that battle earlier this month when the Los Angeles City Council overrode a mayoral veto to approve Kravetz’s proposed hotel.
The intense lobbying surrounding the project focused attention on a pair of deeply private men who have emerged as two of the San Fernando Valley’s most important developers. Both say they harbor no personal antagonism, but their competition is keen.
‘Wants a Century City’
“Voit feels that Warner Center is his baby and, in a sense, it is; but it definitely creates animosity,” said Seth Dudley, a Valley leasing agent for the real estate firm of Julian J. Studley. “He wants a Century City, and he wants it to be his.”
Indeed, the 45-year-old Voit personifies Warner Center, the boom town between the Ventura Freeway, Topanga Canyon Boulevard, De Soto Avenue and Vanowen Street that contains acres of apartments, shopping centers and office buildings. His partly built $500-million centerpiece project, Warner Center Plaza, has helped establish the area’s shiny glass identity.
Lately, though, Voit has witnessed a challenge to the preeminence of his vision by Kravetz, 37, who is building a $165-million office complex known as Trillium just three blocks away.
The two men have much in common. Both are smart, respected developers for whom Warner Center is the biggest project of their careers. And both had the foresight to buy part of the old Warner Ranch, some of it at prices that now seem incredible: Voit, for example, bought 120 acres 11 years ago for $1.50 a square foot. Now it sells for $25 or $30.
But there the similarities end. Voit is a native Southern Californian; Kravetz reached adolescence in the Midwest. Voit’s grandfather founded the W. J. Voit Rubber Co., a sporting goods concern the family sold in 1957. Kravetz’s background is quite middle-class.
Bachelor, Family Man
Voit is a bachelor, Kravetz is a family man. Voit seems more formal and more established as a big commercial developer. Kravetz dresses more casually, and his investments range from rental trucks to restaurants.
“Voit came out of Coldwell-Banker and has a very corporate approach to Warner Center,” said one real estate agent who knows both men. “He sets his prices, and, if he doesn’t get them, he just sits. He’s rigid. Kravetz is the deal maker.”
Their differing styles are expressed in their projects. Trillium, the partly completed Kravetz development that will include his hotel, is in the newly popular post-Modernist vein, with pink stone, glass arches, and curved lines. It looks almost playful compared to Voit’s sharp-edged, formal buildings of gleaming dark glass.
“Bob Voit invented the black-and-white television set,” Kravetz said. “We added color.”
Voit grew up in Arcadia, studied political science and English at the University of California, Berkeley, and fell into real estate after college because, he said, he just couldn’t stand working for a company that makes flanges or fly-rods.
His first job, at Coldwell-Banker, paid $400 a month in 1962, but gave Voit a chance to learn the commercial real estate business--while studying at night for a graduate degree in political theory.
After 10 years, Voit left Coldwell and formed The Voit Cos. Its first project was a two-story office complex in Woodland Hills. By mid-1985, according to his brief biography, Voit developed more than 4 million square feet “representing costs in excess of $600 million.”
Warner Center Properties, of which Voit is managing partner, is the partnership at the heart of it all. Through it, Voit has completed 34 buildings totaling more than 1.3 million square feet. Its $500-million centerpiece, Warner Center Plaza, is eventually to have 1.8 million square feet of offices in five towers. So far, two buildings, of 12 and 20 stories, are up, as well as the 473-room Marriott Hotel. Marriott owns the hotel but pays rent on the land to Voit.
Although his passion is sailing, Voit said his work is all-consuming, so much so that he’s selling his 23-acre Hidden Valley ranch because he doesn’t have time for it. He lives alone in a condominium a couple of blocks from Warner Center Plaza, and rises around 5 a.m. to walk over to the office. Those who know him call him a perfectionist.
“I’m always working,” he acknowledged. “I don’t know when I’m working or not working.”
Makes Time for Children
Kravetz loves building and works long hours too, but doggedly makes time for his children, his home in Encino, and his vacation house at Lake Arrowhead. Kravetz said he rarely works on weekends.
Kravetz is a developer but has diversified interests. With Daniel Terheggen, his longtime friend and partner, he owns Consolidated Lauco Systems, California’s fifth-largest operator of coin-operated laundry machines in apartment buildings. Terheggen put its annual revenues at $8 million.
With another partner, the two men also own licensing rights to the Beverly Hills Polo Club label. Their line of women’s clothing should gross $5 million in the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, Terheggen said, and they plan to branch out into men’s and children’s clothing as well.
Terheggen said he handles most of the businesses aside from Trillium. Kravetz concentrates on real estate.
Kravetz started out wanting to be an architect. He was born in Minneapolis, but his father, an audiologist, moved the family to Los Angeles when he was 14, and he attended Santa Monica City College.
Real Estate Specialist
But, at 21, Kravetz also wanted to get married, and he’d heard that architects don’t make much money at first. So he went to work for a securities firm and eventually became a real estate specialist. In 1971, he raised $55,000 through Glenda Ltd., a real estate syndication named for his wife, and built a little apartment house in Brentwood.
Kravetz and Terheggen are building their Warner Center project east of Canoga Avenue and south of Victory Boulevard in partnership with the New York-based Fischbach Corp. It is eventually to contain two 17-story office towers, each with 300,000 square feet of space; 32,500 square feet of shops and a 7,500-square-foot, free-standing restaurant. It will contain tennis courts, too, and will surround the existing Warner Center Club, a health club that Kravetz and Terheggen own.
It also will contain a 340-room hotel, probably a Hilton, now that the City Council voted to override Mayor Tom Bradley’s veto of an earlier council approval.
The hotel was the subject of a political battle between Kravetz and Voit, with powerful forces on both sides. Kravetz had the support of organized labor, the Building Industry Assn., and, most importantly, Councilwoman Joy Picus. Her district includes Warner Center, and she reminded her colleagues of the tradition that council members know what’s best for their own districts.
Voit, meanwhile, had the support of Planning Commission President Daniel Garcia and Bradley, whose biggest campaign contributor in the Valley in 1983 and 1984 was Voit. A Times survey found that the developer gave $12,100 to Bradley in those years.
Denies Fear of Competition
Voit denied that the fear of competition or any special influence with the mayor had anything to do with the dispute. He argued instead that Kravetz’s plans violate the intent of the city’s district plan for the area, which called for the most intense development to occur west of Canoga Avenue, where Voit’s Warner Plaza is. East of Canoga, where Trillium is being built and where both the Voit and Kravetz interests own property, was designated industrial.
“This is the city actively trying to make itself better,” Voit said. “So, when 30 years of that planning is arrogantly and ignorantly set aside, it hurts.”
But supporters of the second hotel, including Kravetz, note that the plan allows the council to approve a hotel there, and that it is unrealistic to expect low-density industrial development on such choice land. They also say the plan would have allowed an extra office building instead of a hotel without council approval. An office building, they say, would generate even more traffic, and detract even more from the idea of a Warner Center core at Owensmouth Avenue and Oxnard Street.
Despite their difference of opinion--and their competition for tenants--the two men remain reasonably cordial, according to associates, and now their dispute appears to be over: Voit said he won’t sue.
“That’s not our style,” he said simply. “The deed is done.”