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Best Buy Sees Sportsmen’s Lodge as Site for Superstore : Studio City: Both community leaders and City Hall oppose sale of historic location to the retail chain.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite strong community and City Hall opposition, the electronics superstore Best Buy has entered into preliminary discussions to acquire the site of the Sportsmen’s Lodge, a landmark restaurant and banquet complex in Studio City famed for its sylvan grounds that have hosted weddings and conferences for half a century.

A Best Buy official on Wednesday described her company’s involvement so far as “just discussions,” and the owner of the site acknowledged that talks “haven’t gone very far.”

But rumors of a possible deal have been enough to worry area residents, who consider Sportsmen’s Lodge an essential and historic anchor of the community.

“They’d be bulldozing more than a building--they’d be bulldozing the character of Studio City,” said Tony Lucente, president of the Studio City Residents Assn. “We would fight to preserve it.”

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Kelly Bansemer, senior real estate manager at Best Buy headquarters in Minneapolis, said she started investigating the site, located near the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Coldwater Canyon Avenue, in August. She called the slow progress of talks “frustrating,” but said the location in tony Studio City at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains would be “terrific for a Best Buy store.”

The owner of the majority of the property did not close the door on the notion of selling it to Best Buy, but he characterized the chances of completing a deal as “much less than 50-50.”

“Price is a factor, but there are significant obstacles even if we could agree on one,” said Leonard Harlig, a Sun Valley, Ida., resident whose family owns the land that is home to the Sportsmen’s Lodge restaurant, ponds and parking lots. The adjacent Sportsmen’s Lodge Hotel property is owned by a New York investment firm.

The obstacles, in Harlig’s view: The restaurant owner recently invested $5 million into renovating the property, has 10 years remaining on his lease and may be unwilling to leave. Furthermore, Harlig said, the “community has expressed a lack of enthusiasm, to be euphemistic, for that kind of retail establishment.”

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Still, Best Buy officials have approached City Councilman Michael Feuer for his views on the proposed project, explaining that as the firm has expanded to 251 stores since 1962, it has purchased numerous properties that were not on the market and satisfied the concerns of reluctant area residents.

In the past year alone, the company--which sells stereos, televisions, computers, appliances, software and music--has opened 19 stores on the West Coast, with the most recent opening this week in Woodland Hills.

Bansemer has met twice with Feuer’s chief field deputy, Sharon Mayer, but has met resistance.

“We strongly discouraged them from considering that particular site,” Mayer said. “In fact, we oppose it. The traffic problems are probably insurmountable.”

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Mayer said she urged the company to look into locating at the Sherman Oaks Galleria instead or at the corner of Riverside Drive and Woodman Avenue in Sherman Oaks, where a Glendale Federal tower, red-tagged since the Northridge earthquake, is just now being demolished.

“They love the demographics of the area, and we’d love for them to be in the area,” she said.

Bansemer has a few ideas, however, that she believes could win over Studio City residents.

Rather than a “typical big box in the middle of a large parking lot,” she said the company has drawn up plans to install an “architecturally appealing” store that would face Ventura Boulevard with a “streetscape” decked out with elaborate landscaping and pedestrian walkways.

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The history of the corner resonates with old Hollywood and the early years of the San Fernando Valley. Harlig said actors Noah and Wallace Beery originally owned a trout farm on the site, then sold it to a man who built a 30-seat restaurant in the early 1940s.

Harlig said his father purchased the property in 1945 and built a complex that included the area’s first banquet facility and one of its finest restaurants. It retained the ambience of a French country auberge, where well-dressed customers could catch trout in ponds floating with swans and lilies and have chefs cook their catch.

Harlig sold the food facilities while keeping the land in 1975, and it changed hands again in 1990. The owner, Bill Norred, lavishly remodeled it in a mountain lodge motif with two restaurants and eight banquet halls that have hosted 2,000 people on a single night.


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