Building Playa Vista

Photo Credit: The Argonaut / Michael Kraxenberger. Playa Vista as seen last week from the Loyola Marymount University campus.

Photo Credit: The Argonaut / Michael Kraxenberger. Playa Vista as seen last week from the
Loyola Marymount University campus.

‘The physical incarnation of the new L.A.’ gets ready for launch

From The Argonaut, by By Joe Piasecki, March 18, 2015:

It isn’t every day that the leader of a sprawling metropolis takes time out to preside over the grand opening of a movie theater.

But this wasn’t just any multiplex, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti would explain.

Last Thursday the nine-screen Cinemark Playa Vista and XD theater became the first business to open in Runway at Playa Vista — the $260-million retail and entertainment complex that, by linking the 460-acre development’s burgeoning technology mega-center to what will eventually be 6,000 new homes and apartments, completes Playa Vista as essentially a city unto itself.

Less than two years after its April 2013 groundbreaking, Runway is only months shy of substantial completion. A 36,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market is set to open as early as May. Sixteen other businesses — restaurants, banks, fitness centers, salons, a CVS pharmacy — are opening between April and late summer, with lease agreements for apparel shops and additional restaurants on the horizon, says Chris Daniell, division retail manager for Runway developers Lincoln Property Company.

Already home to YouTube Space Los Angeles, consumer electronics designer Belkin International, video game designer Konami and more than a dozen other tech-world movers and shakers, Playa Vista’s creative office space campus on the former grounds of the Hughes Aircraft Company (known as the Hercules Campus) is only beginning to take off.

Google made global headlines in December with a $120-million purchase of 12 vacant acres adjacent to the 320,000-square-foot Hughes’ Spruce Goose hangar, which industry watchers expect Google to lease. The potential for a combined 1.2 million square feet of office space could someday house as many as 6,000 workers, according to estimates.

Internet rival Yahoo wasn’t far behind. In January the company went public about relocating its current Santa Monica headquarters to 130,000 square feet of space in The Collective at Playa Vista, a low-density creative office complex under construction to the south and east of Playa Vista Central Park. The move will bring an estimated 400 jobs to Playa Vista as early as September.

Roughly 3,000 construction workers have been reporting to Playa Vista each day for the past year, says Alison Banks, director of marketing for Playa Vista master developers Brookfield Residential. Brookfield, she says, has employed an entire team of workers dedicated to finding parking spaces for them all.

During the Cinemark opening, Garcetti described Playa Vista’s explosive growth as a positive economic indicator for the city as a whole. Afterward, he described Playa Vista’s walking-distance mix of housing, retail and creative office space in idyllic terms.

“I think Playa Vista is a physical incarnation of the new L.A. — a place where you can live, work and play in your neighborhood; bold architecture, all the city services, good-paying jobs and a vision of our economic future,” Garcetti said. “I think this is a place where you don’t have to get in your car to do everything and you can have a high quality of life, and it serves people of all backgrounds and income levels but doesn’t cut any corners on making a bold statement.”

‘Big Spaces inspire big ideas’

Garcetti, who according to the Los Angeles Times incentivized Yahoo’s arrival by offering to waive the company’s business taxes for three years, is increasingly defining his economic vision for Los Angeles in terms of strengthening its tech sector. He often cites a Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation report released last year that found Los Angeles County supported more high-tech jobs (368,600) than anywhere else in the country, including Santa Clara County (313,300) in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Leading a panel last Saturday at the South by Southwest interactive media conference in Austin, Garcetti said he viewed cities as a physical embodiment
of a technological platform.

“When you think of it, mayors are essentially chief engineers — people who deal with the hardware and the software of the space that we bound as these urban areas,” Garcetti said. “We’re testing a new approach to fully harness the idea of the city as platform, to partner and to integrate tech into a core value of who we are. … I see technology as the core of our economic development strategies.”

Early Playa Vista arrivals say they’ve found value in being part of its technology cluster.

“Physical proximity counts, even in this digital world,” said Matt Jarvis, chief strategy officer at the digital advertising firm 72andSunny, among the first companies to arrive at the Hercules Campus. The company leases 68,000 square feet, including Hughes’ former executive office.

“It’s a very vibrant petri dish, with lots of talented people with complementary skill sets coming together,” said Jarvis. “When you create surprising collisions among industries, interesting things tend to happen. For us to be at the center of it is a huge benefit. The rate of those collisions is going to accelerate.”

Case in point: 72andSunny, frequently topping the trades’ agency-of-the-year lists, tapped neighbors YouTube Space L.A. to involve Internet video stars in advertising campaigns for the 100-million-selling “Call of Duty” video game series and the anti-smoking Campaign for Truth. 72andSunny’s accounts also include future neighbors Google (YouTube’s parent company), Samsung and, as of last week, Adidas.

Liam Collins, head of YouTube Space L.A., said the company had bet on Playa Vista becoming a tech-industry hub.

“We are believers that big spaces inspire big ideas,” Collins said. “Playa Vista stood out because of a strong sense of creative history and the promise that it could become a new crossroads for media and technology on a global scale.”

Asked during his South by Southwest panel whether Playa Vista benefitted only the tech-world elite, Garcetti said growing L.A. startups benefit from being able to network with larger firms.

Playa Vista “buttresses all the small startups,” he said, “so that they’re not traveling out of town to make those connections.”

Population: 13,000

Playa Vista’s massive residential component quite literally keeps tech close to home.

Some 2,800 homes, apartments or condos are currently under construction by nine different companies, said Banks. Combined with some 3,100 built during Playa Vista’s first phase, all this housing will be enough to accommodate some 13,000 people, she said.

For tech employees who can walk to work (and soon also to shop), the value proposition is simple. But Playa Vista property is also selling fast thanks to an already red-hot Westside housing market, said real estate broker Tami Pardee.

“There’s such a lack of housing supply that we need inventory,” Pardee said. “There are more than enough people moving into the area to absorb that housing.”

Some 200 newly built Playa Vista homes sold last year at prices ranging from the $900,000s to about $2.5 million, and the three blocks of detached single-family homes that went up for sale last March have completely sold out, Banks said.

Commercial real estate in Playa Vista is selling or leasing so fast that for some smaller players it’s getting harder to find space there, Pardee said.

But Playa Vista builders can’t take the market for granted. Creative office space tenants have come to expect certain amenities: natural light, open windows, balconies, courtyards, basketball hoops — even a hammock or two.

Built in 2009 immediately east of the land Google just bought, a pair of traditional six-story office buildings — boxy rectangles with sealed windows and shared lobbies — sat empty for five years. Last July, developers Clarion Partners purchased the empty Latitude 34 complex for $132 million and immediately embarked on an $8-million renovation effort, renaming the space i|o at Playa Vista.

“We’ve punched holes in the building and affixed an external balcony-and-stair structure so you can park and walk up into your own space. We added bi-folding doors to introduce fresh air into the space,” said Clarion Partners Vice President Khalid Rashid. “What we’ve tried to do is create an optimal environment for interaction and innovation. It plays to the overall health and happiness of employees.”

A shared courtyard with indoor/outdoor workspaces will also feature a “hammock forest” among transplanted mature trees, he said.

The strategy has paid off. Even as work continues, three companies (in advertising, digital media and private equity) have already signed leases for 43% of the complex’s 300,000 square feet, Rashid said.

In developing Runway at Playa Vista — where retail, office and residential uses all come together — Daniell also obsessed over the tenant and shopper experience.

A park will separate Runway’s 420 residential apartments from its retail and office footprint along Jefferson Boulevard, where common areas with plenty of  outdoor seating will feature fountains, fire pits, string lighting and pet-friendly water fountains. One of three levels of office space above first-floor retail features a large outdoor patio with southward views of the Loyola Marymount University bluffs.

Even the Cinemark boasts special features: a 70-by-38-foot XD screen with a 60-speaker sound system, optional easy chair seating and full-service dining; a second-story outdoor dining patio; digital movie posters and information display boards; a satellite hookup for special screenings.

“I see three different audiences — Playa Vista residents, our expansive daytime [office] population and a regional draw,” Daniell said. “If we’re as successful as we think we’re going to be, we’re pulling from as far north as beyond Venice and maybe as far south as Manhattan Beach.”

Ian Joulain, reporting from Austin, contributed to this story.

Greg Dina