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L. A. Legal Firm Seeks Lease in New Civic Arts Plaza : Thousand Oaks: Deal would cover parcel’s final vacant office space. Request comes before City Council tonight.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Filling a void left by wealthy businessman Charles Probst when he abruptly backed out of a lease last month, a Los Angeles County law firm is negotiating with the city of Thousand Oaks for the final piece of vacant office space in the Civic Arts Plaza.

A partner at Contos & Bunch, a Woodland Hills civil litigation law firm, said the attorneys are interested in leasing the entire 5,597 square feet of office space still available on the second floor of the plaza.

“It would certainly be nice to get someone in there,” said City Atty. Mark Sellers, adding that negotiations are still in a preliminary stage.

Bruce Bunch said his four-lawyer firm would boost its local profile by moving to the Civic Arts Plaza. Both partners live in the Conejo Valley and attend performances at the arts plaza, he said.

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“We thought it would give us more of a community involvement and presence,” Bunch said. “And it would be easy to tell people how to get to our office.”

In January, city officials were shocked when Probst--a North Ranch resident and the arts plaza’s largest donor with a $2-million pledge--pulled out of a lease on the day it was to be approved by the City Council. Probst had planned to provide office space for many of the area’s nonprofit arts groups.

Two tenants have already negotiated plaza office leases with the city. County Supervisor Frank Schillo will open a 1,796-square-foot community office there and the California Department of Transportation is planning a 2,200-square-foot telecommuting center.

With Schillo and Caltrans both wanting to move in by May, council members had to quickly approve $320,000 in improvements for the entire second-floor suite of offices--adding lighting, hallways and bathroom facilities--without knowing when additional tenants could be found.

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During closed session at tonight’s meeting, the City Council will consider whether Contos & Bunch should be encouraged to move in. The base negotiating price per square foot at the arts plaza is $1.80 to $1.85, Sellers said. However, Schillo was given three months’ free rent, which brought the price down to about $1.70 a square foot over the course of a 45-month contract.

Mayor Jaime Zukowski said she has not received any information about the prospective tenant yet, but that she does have concerns that some commercial uses for the space would be inappropriate.

“For instance there were some real estate firms interested,” Zukowski said. “There might be some incompatibility there. A business that may require a great deal of actions with city permits might give an appearance of having an advantage over other private interests if they were located there.”

Contos & Bunch was founded 16 years ago, Bunch said. Although it is based in Woodland Hills, he said the firm has many clients within this county. Bunch lives in Agoura and partner John Contos lives in Westlake.

Both men have been contributors to the Civic Arts Plaza Foundation, he said.

“We’re community people,” he said.

In 1992, the partners won a $4-million settlement for a 10-year-old blind Santa Paula girl in a lawsuit that charged Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles with negligence.


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