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Farmers Market to Unveil New Development

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The owners of the landmark Farmers Market in Los Angeles are expected to announce today that they have teamed up with a local developer to build a sprawling, $100-million shopping and entertainment complex alongside the historic market.

The open-air project--which will include 640,000 square feet of high-end shops, restaurants, movie theaters and offices--is one of the largest developments to be proposed in the city since the real estate market went bust in the early 1990s.

The 25-acre shopping center that will be unveiled today by Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso is significantly smaller in size and scale than previous proposals, which triggered vigorous opposition from nearby residents. The Grove at Farmers Market, as the center will be known, also promises to leave intact the colorful Farmers Market at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue, one of Los Angeles’ top tourist attractions. Caruso hopes to open the Grove by early 2000.

However, the scaled-down proposal, which is about one-third smaller than the nearby Beverly Center, is still certain to trigger concerns over increased congestion on the heavily traveled streets and of potential change to the offbeat charm of Farmers Market.

“I think you’re going to run into very, very significant community opposition, because the whole Westside of town is very edgy about [additional] traffic congestion,” said Jack Kyser of the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County. “They already feel put upon.”

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But Caruso, who has built numerous outdoor shopping malls in Ventura County and the popular Encino Marketplace, says his firm is prepared to deal with the neighborhood’s long-standing worries over traffic congestion and development.

“We want to get out into the community and deal with the concerns,” said Caruso, president of Caruso Affiliated Holdings, which owns more than 35 real estate projects nationwide. “We will be prepared to modify things that need to be modified.”

Under the agreement, Caruso will lease the land from the family-owned A.F. Gilmore Co.--which has owned and operated the Farmers Market property for more than a century--and build about 50 stores, a mid-size movie theater and 80,000 square feet of office space. The stores and offices will be clustered around a two-acre community park, arcades and new streets that will cut through the development. The project will sit primarily to the east and north of Farmers Market on what is now parking lots and vacant land.

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Unlike previous proposals, Caruso’s plans include no major department stores and limit most buildings to two stories. Two parking structures will be built in the northeast corner of the site next to CBS Television City. Farmers Market, the 146-year-old Gilmore Adobe and the Gilmore Bank building will be preserved.

The proposed development, designed by David Williams of Caruso Affiliated Holdings and KMD Architects of San Francisco, “will honor the history of one of L.A.'s most revered institutions by embracing it,” said Hank Hilty, president of A.F. Gilmore, in a statement.

The Gilmore family has fought for nearly two decades to develop the land surrounding the market. In the mid-1980s, the family teamed up with a Chicago-based real estate company in a failed effort to build a 2 million-square-foot office, retail and hotel complex.

The development--along with the proposals by other firms to build office and residential towers nearby--met with intense neighborhood opposition. After five years of controversy, Councilman John Ferraro, who represents the area, stepped in and brokered a compromise that reduced the project to a 700,000-square-foot shopping center to be anchored by two department stores including Nordstrom.

The smaller development won city approval in 1991 but was delayed after the region fell into a deep recession that killed off almost all new construction. In recent years, however, the neighborhood around Farmers Market has seen a resurgence marked by the growing ranks of chic boutiques and cafes on 3rd, Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue that cater to young, affluent residents.

“It’s an outstanding [area],” said retail store consultant Sanford Goodkin. The Grove “really should do very well.”

Caruso expects fairly rapid city approval because the development rights granted in 1991 are still in place and the project is smaller than previously proposed.

“It’s 180 degrees from what was done earlier,” said Caruso, who met with potential tenants at a shopping center conference this week in Las Vegas.

Ferraro, who had not yet seen any of the project’s details, said Thursday that his major concern is the preservation of Farmers Market, which attracts more than 6 million visitors annually.

“I think [The Grove is] going to be good for the city,” Ferraro said. But “if we shut the city down because of traffic, people are going to be pretty mad.”

Farmers Market operated on an informal basis for many years on land owned by oil magnate Earl B. Gilmore. In 1934, a local real estate developer built the wooden stalls and clapboard buildings that most people are familiar with.

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The market has long served as a gathering place for the Fairfax district’s large Jewish community. Recently, some modest improvements and the arrival of new stores and restaurants--including a Starbucks--have helped trigger a revival in the center’s popularity among tourists and locals alike.

“Its [popularity] is amazing, because it’s so out of date and it is so unglitzy,” said architectural historian Margaret Crawford. “It’s one of the few places where tourists and natives cross paths.”

But she is worried that the market’s “retro charm” and popularity will suffer as a result of the new development and related congestion. “A dense retail center will destroy part of its charm,” Crawford said.


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