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  • Jason Tuvia

Los Angeles Miracle Mile Undergoes Makeover

A bulldozer is expected to start tearing up a parking lot along a palm tree-lined stretch of Los Angeles' Wilshire Boulevard known as the Miracle Mile, capping a massive real estate makeover of the area that holds some of the city’s most well-known destinations such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, La Brea Tar Pits and the El Rey Theatre.

The area, about five miles west of downtown in the heart of the city, is known for its mixture of early 20th century architecture and modern office complexes often occupied by businesses related to the film industry. After struggling in the later part of the century, a slow renaissance in the past several years is accelerating as multiple planned projects come to fruition.

Development in the Miracle Mile includes a towering apartment complex, a museum dedicated to the city’s film industry, the planned expansion of LACMA and a stop on the Metro Purple Line subway extension. They are beginning to change dramatically the look of Wilshire from Fairfax Avenue to Hauser Boulevard, the museum center in the nation's second-largest city.

"This is a happening place," said Jerry Snyder, founder and senior partner of Miracle Mile-based development firm JH Snyder Co., one of the leading developers of the modern buildings in the area. His firm's projects include the Wilshire Courtyard, a 1 million-square-foot office complex that has housed some of Los Angeles’ marquee entertainment companies ranging from E! Entertainment to the Oprah Winfrey Network at 5700 Wilshire Blvd.

Snyder is working on one of the most notable development projects on the street: the $207 million Residences at Wilshire Curson, a 285-unit, 20-floor apartment complex that is replacing a parking lot behind a long-standing retail mall once home to a Marie Callender’s restaurant at the intersection of Wilshire and Curson Avenue. The east side of the property, home to an office building that houses the Screen Actors Guild, is not part of the project.

The studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments at 5757 Wilshire Blvd. will be built atop a two-story parking structure. Planned on-site amenities include a rooftop swimming pool, a dog wash, a fitness area and meeting rooms.

Snyder said he has long wanted to build on the property, once known as Museum Square, which he purchased in 1978.

He said he scrapped his original idea for an office project to make room for multifamily instead "because the market for residential is very strong." He filed plans for the project earlier this year with the city. "Being on Curson across from the grassy area of the La Brea Tar Pits, we have views in four directions: the Hollywood sign, downtown, west L.A. and the ocean," Snyder said.

The large parking lot in the rear is slated to be dug up on Thursday for the construction of a 400-car underground garage, Snyder said. After that part of the project is completed within a year, a new plaza is planned to be rebuilt with waterfalls and new landscaping by Newport Beach, California-based Lifescapes International, Snyder said.

The Residences at Wilshire Curson, which are being designed by MWE+Partners, are expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2020.

Bret Parsons, a realtor and executive director of the architectural division of brokerage firm Pacific Union International, said that apartments will serve a growing population in the area.

"Los Angeles is becoming denser and denser whether people like it or not," he said. "It needs to be embraced so that it can be handled properly." The attraction to the area is only expected to grow as its makeover progresses, he said.

Metro, the subway, is adding stops on its long-anticipated Purple Line extension from downtown to the Westside along Wilshire including at Wilshire and Fairfax, only steps from this development and a number of other projects long anticipated to change the street. The line is expected to open in 2023.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, designed by Pritzker-Prize winning architect Renzo Piano, is being built in the former May Co. department store building at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, adjacent to LACMA. The $388 million project by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is expected to celebrate Los Angeles’ history in the film industry when it opens next year, according to its website. Next door, LACMA is planning to start its $600 million expansion project along the street this year. That project would include razing existing buildings to make way for a 387,500-square-foot building as well as more open space on the property, its plans show. Across the street, the Petersen Automotive Museum completed a $125 million renovation that added a dramatic silver and red façade meant to represent motion and speed to the property.

It's a sign that the renovations in the area have been slowly accelerating over the past several years. Parsons is glad to see the revitalization of the area in recent years because some of the famous stretch’s formerly "premier shopping destinations" had fallen into hard times in the 1980s and 1990s, he said.

"So you had these gorgeous old buildings that were either vacant or had mom-and-pop stores, transient businesses there, and it fell into disrepair," he said. "I think developers saw what an opportunity that was because you had beautiful buildings along a transportation corridor. As more people have moved to Los Angeles, the whole area has been reenergized. It’s actually quite exciting."

Investors seem to have a long-term plan to stay in the neighborhood.

Miracle Mile is centrally located with a high-profile tenant base and lack of competition from new development, and, as a result, investors tend to hold assets here, according to CoStar Market Analytics. Fewer than 10 deals have been recorded every year of the past decade, except for 2015. However, demand is high. Assets that sell generally command prices in the $400-$500 per square foot range, which is well above the Los Angeles average, according to CoStar.

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