Bloomingdale's Narrows Sites to Beverly Hills, Century City

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After months of shopping for a Westside location for its West Coast flagship store, upscale retailer Bloomingdale's has narrowed its decision to sites in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles--and for the moment, at least, Beverly Hills appears to have the edge.

The cities have been battling to win over the department store and the jobs--Los Angeles officials estimate 600 to 1,000--and other economic perks it promises.

Bloomingdale's Chairman Michael Gould said in an interview this week that the retailer was "leaning towards" Beverly Hills, but stressed that a decision was still weeks away and talks were continuing with Los Angeles.

"(Beverly Hills) has to come out. . . . It has to be a good deal," said Gould, who once headed the Robinsons department store chain and Giorgio of Beverly Hills.

At stake is an estimated $1 million-plus in sales tax revenue, not to mention the cachet of having what the ritzy New York retailer says will be its grandest store outside of Manhattan. Bloomingdale's is looking at sites on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills and either in or near the Century City Market Place mall in Los Angeles. It plans to open the store in March, 1997.

The proposed 250,000-square-foot store is the first of three Bloomingdale's planned for Los Angeles and Orange counties. Owned by Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores, it will be Bloomingdale's first foray on the West Coast.

Both Los Angeles and Beverly Hills said Bloomingdale's initiated informal discussions about potential sites in the early part of the year. But since then, Beverly Hills has apparently grabbed the lead in the race to secure the store.

As of last week, the city had held two formal negotiating sessions with Bloomingdale's, while Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan's office has characterized that city's meetings with the retailer only as discussions.

Further buoying Beverly Hills' hopes is the fact that Federated is in escrow for the privately-owned parcels adjacent to the city property Bloomingdale's wants. The city-owned site is a parking lot in the 200 block between North Beverly and North Canon drives. It is a few blocks north of the row of upscale department stores lining Wilshire Boulevard.

Gould said, however, that the property in escrow could be sold or used for another purpose if Bloomingdale's can't reach agreement with city officials for the city-owned parcel.

In Century City, Bloomingdale's is said to be interested in a large vacant piece of property south of the Century City Market Place mall and across Constellation Boulevard from another Federated-owned store, Bullock's. Gould said Bloomingdale's would also consider buying space within the mall, although Los Angeles' officials discussing the Constellation site with Gould told The Times they had not been aware of that possibility.

The meeting between officials from both cities and Bloomingdale's have been strictly confidential, with each side leery of giving leverage to the other.

But participants confirm that in closed-door sessions, a Bloomingdale's architect presented Beverly Hills' officials with a proposed building plan, later amending it at the city's suggestion. Last week, a scale model was unveiled at a similar meeting, sources said.

Indeed, Beverly Hills has recently hired legal counsel to advise them on possible lease and purchase agreements for the land. The city has also retained a traffic consultant to measure the impact of a department store on Beverly Drive and will be employing an urban design firm to study the area.

Beverly Hills Mayor Vicki Reynolds said she has been encouraged by the status of the negotiations: "Bloomingdale's and Beverly Hills--it's a great fit. Both have a cachet that will enhance the other," she said.

Gould, however, said he remains to be convinced.

After leaving last week's negotiating session with Beverly Hills, he went directly to meet with Riordan to discuss the Century City site.

"We haven't been chatting with Los Angeles as long (as Beverly Hills), but after talking to Mayor Riordan last week I have no doubt that they'll be willing to do whatever it takes to get Bloomingdale's in Los Angeles," Gould said after the meeting.

Gould would not elaborate on his specific requests, other than to say that the project be "fast-tracked"--meaning it should receive speedy approvals from the various city departments.

Stanley Hirsh, who been spearheading Los Angeles' efforts to woo Bloomingdale's, said the retailer would be making a mistake if it chose Beverly Hills over Century City.

Although public officials in Beverly Hills' may be eager to welcome Bloomingdale's, he said, the residents may not be so pleased with a large-scale retail project. He pointed out other commercial projects that had been delayed or stymied after residents protested. Saks Fifth Avenue's proposed expansion last year was killed due to residents' concerns.

"The whole city is a homeowners' group," he said, alluding to the associations' usual role in opposing nearby construction projects.

Hirsh promised Los Angeles would be much more welcoming and could offer tax incentives, a promise of fast-track consideration and other aid. Hirsh is chairman of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, but said he was involved only as a private citizen. He is longtime friend of Gould.

Still, development in Century City is limited under a planning guide that, in part, regulates growth by the traffic a project would generate. According to Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who opposes the project, a 250,000-square-foot department store would certainly exceed the traffic generation limits now applicable.

Planners measure traffic through "vehicle trips," the number of cars that would arrive or leave a building per day. Yaroslavsky said there are fewer than 1,500 vehicle trips allowable under the current phase of Century City development, and he estimated Bloomingdale's could trigger approximately 10,000 vehicle trips per day. Yaroslavsky said he has not been part of the discussions with Bloomingdale's, Hirsh and Riordan.

Added Yaroslavsky: "The Westside has enough shopping."

But whichever city Bloomingdale's ultimately moves into, Gould is convinced the legendary retailer can do marvelous things for the community.

Said Gould: "We bring an awful lot to an area. If Bloomingdale's comes to either city, the values of adjacent stores skyrocket--that's whether it's in Beverly Hills or Century City."

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