The sequel to Movietown Plaza is officially in production, as representatives from AvalonBay Communities and officials with the city of West Hollywood held a ground-breaking ceremony at the project site on Santa Monica Boulevard on Tuesday.
Approximately eight years in the making, the project — Avalon West Hollywood — will replace the former shopping center with 370 residences and 32,300 square feet of retail space. More than 70 of the units will be affordable housing for seniors.
“We couldn’t be more excited to be here,” said Chris Payne, senior vice president of AvalonBay.
The project was originally proposed in 2006 by Casden Properties and approved by the West Hollywood City Council in 2010, but financial issues forced the developers to sell the property to AvalonBay in 2011.
Payne said the city supported the company’s efforts to acquire and design the project, “which we think will be a real benefit to this area [and will] certainly complement the neighborhood,” while also being unique.
“It was truly a village to get this over the goal line,” he said. “We’re thrilled to be a part of this community. We take the responsibility seriously.”
Payne said the company is replacing the shopping center with a design that offers a more modern, contemporary design and feel. When AvalonBay acquired the property, the company scaled the project down, he said.
“It’s a true mixed-use community in a vertical nature,” Payne added. “A big part of our driver for taking on this project was coming up with an architectural design that really could make a statement but also fit and complement the neighborhood. We’re a big believer in the creative classes, and we think West Hollywood is sort of the epicenter for that. …We expect this to be our flagship community in Southern California.”
He announced that the developers will retain the Movietown sculpture on site, at the suggestion of resident Cathy Blaivas. Payne said AvalonBay will rehabilitate the sculpture and place it in a mew, which is similar to an alleyway but is considered more intimate.
He also said former tenant Trader Joe’s has signed a lease and will return. It will be located underneath the property’s affordable housing building.
“It was a long hard road, but we finally wrestled them to the ground, and they couldn’t be happier to be back, and we couldn’t be happier to have them,” Payne said.
Lastly, he announced that the company has signed an agreement with the West Hollywood Community Housing Corp., which will own and manage the affordable housing building “in perpetuity.”
“They’ve been a fabulous partner,” Payne added.
Robin Conerly, executive director of the housing corporation, said the affordable housing building will be named Movietown Square in honor of the site’s history. She said the partnership with AvalonBay was the nonprofit’s first such arrangement with a market-rate developer.
“And we couldn’t have been more fortunate,” Conerly said.
She said the design by MVE & Partners is “beautiful.”
“It’s thoughtful. It’s well conceived for the needs of our residents,” Conerly said, adding that the developers were responsive to the organization’s needs and input. “The entire complex will be a credit to the eastside, as well as the city of West Hollywood.”
She said the affordable housing units will be for residents who are older than 62 and are low-income. Conerly said the future occupants will benefit from a “vibrant” retail and commercial component.
“The location is actually ideal for engaged and active older adults,” she said, adding that shopping and banking will be an elevator ride away for tenants. “It’s going to be wonderful.”
Conerly noted that the development is within walking distance of Plummer Park and the West Hollywood Gateway complex, as well as other developments that are under construction in the area. It is also near bus stops.
“This is truly a transit-oriented, a transit-friendly development,” Conerly added.
She said 71 of the units will be one-bedroom apartments, and five will have two bedrooms. The building will also house a manager’s unit. Each apartment will offer a balcony, and “lovely” community spaces will be offered on the rooftop and the first floor, Conerly said.
The rooftop will offer a community room and a kitchen that will be used for nutrition programs and parties, she said. The roof deck will have planters for gardening, a library and a fitness center specifically designed for older adults, Conerly said. The corporation’s Resident Services Department will staff the building full-time to assist residents with moving and to provide programs, she added.
“We so appreciate the trust AvalonBay has put in us, and we certainly look forward to the grand opening,” Conerly said.
Mayor John D’Amico said construction will last two years, and the overall square footage of the building will be 400,000. He said it will meet the physical and visual needs of West Hollywood.
“I’m very excited that this will be here,” D’Amico said.
Resident Ruth Williams formerly served on a redevelopment committee that worked with the original developers on the project. She said the development set a higher standard for projects coming into West Hollywood.
“At times, we did wonder if this project was ever going to happen, and we’re all excited to see that this day has finally arrived,” Williams said, adding that she was pleased that the developers moved the senior housing to the front of the property — contrary to what had been originally proposed.
She said she grew up on the eastside of West Hollywood, and that she is glad to see the area get more attention.
“I’m proud to say that the eastside will no longer be referred to as the blighted area or the industrial end of town. …We’re going to be a beautiful area that offers a variety of gorgeous new units, with fabulous amenities, new restaurants and shops, which is going to be encouraging a much more friendly pedestrian-oriented district,” Williams added. “We on the eastside can now proclaim that our eastside is a highly desirable area to live, work and play, so let’s get on with it and get it built.”
Payne said construction would commence as soon as the city issued the permits. Councilwoman Abbe Land said the city is working to do so.
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