A Santa Monica-based development company, known for its ability to win the approval of government for its projects, will attempt to resolve the controversies surrounding the $1-billion Playa Vista project south of Marina del Rey.
Playa Vista, a massive planned community proposed for a 957-acre parcel owned by Summa Corp., has been mired in controversy over its density and threat to nearby wetlands.
An official of Maguire Thomas Partners, which acquired an interest in Playa Vista for an undisclosed amount and will step in as managing general partner, said the firm will take a "fresh look" at the project to see how community concerns can be addressed.
Nelson C. Rising, who will head the development team for Playa Vista, said it was too early to say what specific changes in the plan could be made.
Redesigning the Project
"We are about three to four weeks premature," Rising said. "We want the dialogue with Councilwoman (Ruth) Galanter to continue. We want to move as fast as we can to understand all the concerns."
Los Angeles Councilwoman Galanter, whose 6th District includes Playa Vista, defeated incumbent Councilwoman Pat Russell in 1987 in part because of Galanter's opposition to Playa Vista.
Last August, Galanter called for a 40% reduction in the amount of office space in the project, for expansion of the wetlands and for a new environmental impact report. She claimed the report certified by the city in 1986 is "inaccurate, inadequate and outdated."
After a 30-minute meeting last week with Rising, Galanter said in a prepared statement: "The conversation with Mr. Rising was very cordial and I am looking forward to the process of redesigning this project to correct the serious flaws that existed in the previous plan. I told Mr. Rising that I expect a Maguire Thomas project to be compatible with both the natural environment and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Deal With Issues
"The reality is that Maguire Thomas will have to deal effectively with air quality issues, sewer limitations and traffic problems or they will not be building any project.
"I also told Mr. Rising that this time around, Playa Vista won't be planned in the back rooms of City Hall, but in an open, public process that will bring the community in at the beginning."
The city and the state Coastal Commission in 1986 approved plans for the parcel bordered by the San Diego Freeway, Westchester, Playa del Rey and Marina del Rey, and crossed by Lincoln and Jefferson boulevards. Under those plans, Summa was allowed to build up to 8,837 housing units, 5.9-million square feet of office and research space, 970,000-square feet of retail space, 2,400 hotel rooms and a 40-acre marina with 700 to 900 boat slips.
Summa agreed to set aside 175 acres of wetlands and 41 acres of sand dunes and bluffs as a natural preserve, and pledged $10 million to the National Audubon Society to restore and maintain the wetlands.
A 70-acre portion of the parcel in the northeast corner of Lincoln Boulevard and the Ballona Channel was acquired by the state last year as payment of taxes on Howard Hughes' estate. Hughes had owned Summa Corp. However, state Controller Gray Davis has said that he wants to trade the parcel for preservation of more wetlands.
Rising would not say whether Maguire Thomas is interested in a trade, but company officials have hinted that there may be significant changes to plans for Playa Vista.
Robert F. Maguire III, the firm's co-managing partner, said last week that he envisioned Playa Vista "borrowing the best from the enduring and graceful buildings and public spaces so beloved by Southern California, such as the Pasadena City Hall and its public gardens, the Santa Barbara City Hall and park, the Los Angeles Central Library and the Palisades Park in Santa Monica."
Elected officials that have had dealings with Maguire Thomas said that the firm is willing to mesh community concerns with its own financial concerns.
In Los Angeles, Maguire Thomas is providing $125 million in cash and in kind contributions for the restoration and expansion of the Central Library, which was slated for demolition, in exchange for being allowed to build the 73-story First Interstate World Center and the 52-story Southern California Gas Center.
"They have a broad view of development as it interacts with public policy," said Los Angeles Councilman Marvin Braude, who is a personal friend of the managing partners of the firm. "I can't imagine more enlightened developers who are likely to cooperate with public policy concerns."
In Pasadena, Maguire Thomas said 25% of the work is going minority contractors in exchange for being allowed to build Plaza Las Fuentes, a $270-million, mixed-use project under construction on six acres next to Pasadena City Hall.
Pasadena City Director Rick Cole was the lone vote opposing the project, but even he is impressed with the firm.
"They are very tough negotiators, but they have a tremendous amount of integrity," Cole said. "Even though I didn't support their project, they always treated me with complete professionalism. There were no games played."
In the Dallas area, the company is restoring 150 acres of prairie land as part of a 900-acre, low-scale office park.
Maguire Thomas gets approval for its projects, elected officials say, because they are politically savvy when it comes to community concerns.
"You have got to talk to folks and you can't cover wetlands with concrete," said Christine Reed, former mayor of Santa Monica and a City Council member since 1975. "Maguire Thomas appears to be very aware and sensitive to neighborhood concerns. I think they have more than an adequate level of political sophistication."
Give Back to Community
William Bogaard, who dealt with Maguire Thomas on the Plaza Las Fuentes project when he was a member of Pasadena's Board of Directors, said Maguire Thomas understands that it must give something back to the community.
"They have a long track record for responding to the special requirements of governmental bodies such as affirmative action, jobs, public art and public space," Bogaard said. "They are very skilled negotiators. They recognize that all of those factors have an importance."
John L. Goolsby, president of Summa Corp. in Las Vegas, said in a prepared statement: "We are pleased that Maguire Thomas Partners has become the general partner for development of Playa Vista."
Maguire Thomas, which has been in business for 20 years, can be flexible in part because its projects are well financed.
The firm prefers large institutional office and mixed-use projects, usually in joint venture with major corporate tenants, such as IBM Corp., Wells Fargo Bank, Thrifty Corp. and Pacific Telephone.
Unlike other developers that build projects simply to sell them, Maguire Thomas seeks long-term ownership. This, the company says, allows them to assure quality planning, architecture, engineering, construction and ongoing management.
The company is the dominant force in the renaissance of downtown Los Angeles, and is the central city's largest commercial property owner with more than 6 milllion square feet planned or under construction.
In a joint venture with IBM Corp. in Santa Monica last fall, Maguire Thomas bought Colorado Place, a 15-acre, mixed-use office complex at 26th Street and Colorado Avenue. IBM will be a major tenant, initially leasing 210,000 square feet of office space.
Hotel, Office Building
The first phase of the project, three three-story buildings with 435,000 square feet of office space and 43,000 square feet of restaurant, retail and entertainment space, was completed in 1984. The second phase, now under construction, will include a five- and a six-story tower with 315,000 square feet of office space. A third phase calls for a five-story tower with 250,000 square feet of office space, a 3.5-acre community park and a four-screen theater complex.
Maguire Thomas is also planning the development of two parcels it owns on opposite sides of Ocean Avenue just south of Santa Monica Pier. A hotel is planned on the lot on the west side of the street. An office building is planned for the other lot.
"They are very concerned about what we are concerned about here in Santa Monica," said Councilwoman Reed. "They don't come on strong and nasty and pushy."
Any changes in Playa Vista won't be revealed for several months, but some observers are optimistic that Maguire Thomas may be the developer to finally get the project off the ground.
"My impression is that Summa did just about everything wrong," Pasadena's Cole said, "and these are guys who seem to do just about everything right."
JMB Reality Corp., which owns and built much of Century City, also purchased an interest in the project and will be a partner. Howard Hughes Properties, the Summa Corp. subsidiary that had tried to develop the project on its own, will remain as a limited partner.