Even as Culver City’s downtown has evolved into a vibrant hangout with bustling theaters and restaurants, the commercial district in the town’s southern Fox Hills area has remained a gritty mix of offices, mini-malls, tire outlets, pizza joints and an occasional erotica shop, all in the shadow of a tangle of freeways.
A $180-million overhaul of Fox Hills Mall -- now rebranded as Westfield Culver City -- promises a more up-market ambience. Residents report feeling a burst of retail pride in the now-gleaming center, and city officials are enthused about the prospect of additional retail revenue amid challenging times.
Today’s formal unveiling of the dramatically remodeled and expanded center, which has been open for business throughout the 18-month construction, proves that “we are part of that revitalization” that has been underway in Culver City for the last 10 years, said Larry Green, senior vice president of development for owner Westfield.
Culver City Mayor Andrew Weissman said getting retail activity flowing again is key in a time of fiscal stress.
“The city is dependent in large part on a healthy retail environment,” Weissman said. “We’re going through some challenges at the moment because of the general economic malaise and dysfunction at the state level.”
With Culver City’s expenses surpassing revenues by $5 million, City Council members recently passed an interim budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 with the expectation that this month they would begin taking a line-by-line look at costs. Weissman said the city in coming weeks might consider reducing the frequency of trash pickup, tree trimming and similar services.
City Manager Mark Scott said the city anticipates taking in $1.1 million a year in revenue from the revamped center. That’s good news, he said, but not enough to make up for a sharp decline in overall sales tax revenue, which has slipped to $14.5 million from $18 million in the last two fiscal years.
Weissman, an attorney whose office is near City Hall, said he recalls the mid-1990s, when downtown Culver City was “quaint and sleepy.”
“You could easily walk down the street after about 5 o’clock at night and not see a soul,” he said. “It has gone from a very blue-collar-ish area to a white-tablecloth area.”
Now, downtown sidewalks teem with pedestrians and alfresco diners. Wine bars have replaced outdated shops. Parking garages that seemed more than ample years ago are now so packed that downtown businesses insisted on a valet parking system.
As revitalization occurred in the city’s northern area, Fox Hills Mall and its relatively downscale retailing mix drew fire for under-serving an increasingly affluent area. The “war room” in the revamped center features a wall-size map of the region with income levels demonstrating untapped spending power: Playa Vista, $109,807; Playa del Rey, $155,000; Marina del Rey, $118,000; Venice, $125,000; Culver City, $87,000; Ladera Heights, $146,992; Westchester, $109,807.
“What has happened in this area has been dynamite,” Green said. “We hadn’t been serving that customer.”
The regional center, at the intersection of the 405 and 90 freeways, has 1 million square feet of shops and eateries, some of which will open later this month or next month. It is 330,000 square feet larger than it was when the makeover began in March 2008.
What was once a drab exterior now boasts street-front retail and eye-catching design elements.
A former Robinsons-May store, closed in 2006, was renovated. The food court was demolished, and a new upper-level dining terrace, with natural light pouring in through skylights, will open Friday. A BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, part of a fast-growing Huntington Beach-based chain, has opened on the ground level.
Among the anchor stores are a 156,000-square-foot Target with a fresh-produce section, and a 45,000-square-foot Best Buy. JCPenney and Macy’s, fixtures at the 34-year-old center, remain.
About 130 smaller specialty stores and a Gold’s Gym will complete the mix. Coach, H&M;, Hollister and XXI Forever are among the hipper or more upscale offerings. Amenities include valet parking with a waterless, “eco-friendly” car wash.
Tameika Watts, 23, a student at West Los Angeles College, beamed as she exited the center Tuesday evening. “It’s really nice,” she said. “Normally, it would attract younger people. Now the middle class and higher class will come. It’s attracting a different type of crowd now.”