The Promenade at Howard Hughes Center, now rebranded HHLA, doubles down on entertainment and dining to meet changing consumer demand

By Gary Walker

Pedestrian-oriented public gathering spaces are key to the HHLA redesign
Jerde Partnership rendering courtesy of Laurus Corp

As creative tech and electronic media continue to transform the Westside’s economic landscape, the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center in Westchester is remodeling and rebranding to accommodate the spending habits of digital natives.

The Century City-based Laurus Corporation purchased the 248,000-square-foot shopping plaza almost two years ago for nearly $100 million and is more than halfway through a $30-million renovation. Rebranding it HHLA, Laurus hopes to transform the space into an afterhours dining and entertainment attraction.

The remodeled HHLA, which Laurus Chief Investment Officer Austin Kahn expects the company to finish this year, will feature lots of green spaces, screened fire pits and an outdoor courtyard, along with a greater emphasis on dining.

“The center was designed with an open-air concept, but it really needed a reorientation to be more pedestrian-oriented,” Kahn said. “The type of retail that people want to be engaged with has changed across the country. When people do go to a traditional shopping mall, typically their focus is on things that we think that HHLA should evolve into — which is more entertainment-driven, more food and beverage, and more lifestyle.”

While such changes appear to be a national trend, the tech-fueled transformation of the Westside since Google’s 2011 arrival in Venice has accelerated them here.

“You could argue if you take a look at a lot of neighborhoods in L.A. over the last 15, 16 years that this pocket that we’re in here has changed more than almost any other,” Kahn said. “And what we want to do is make this center more relevant and more impactful to the community, and really provide the type of amenity base that helps make it a ‘live, work and play’ area.

Laurus is eyeing tenants of 545 new apartment units and 1.3 million square feet of new creative office space across the street as teeming with potential customers.

Blackstone, the private equity firm that opened that residential and office space about a year ago, did so with creative industry tenants and traditional professional service workers (legal, health care, accounting) in mind, a company spokesperson said.

“They’re a symbiotic relationship there. We want to provide an amenity base for a very active and daytime community that stretches into the evening, and become close to a 24-hour community,” Kahn said.

Loyola Marymount University Marketing and Business Law professor David Stewart echoes Kahn’s views about contemporary consumer habits, particularly among the millennial generation.

“They want to be out and about and socialize. So the more you can create a new experience to mingle and be entertained, the more it’s going to appeal to them,” said Stewart, also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

Kahn says that lifestyles are changing because consumers have more options available to them — especially online shopping and food delivery services.

“But one of the things that you can’t replicate is going out and having a great meal or watching a movie on a super large screen,” he said. “As we think about becoming a more relevant part of the community and the evolution of this center, we can take advantage to make it as appealing as possible.”

Westfield Culver City Mall is within walking distance from HHLA, but Kahn thinks HHLA should appeal to a different clientele.

“We happen to think our center has a positioning and location that, in terms of what we’re trying to do, will have more of a local market flow from people walking into our center than maybe Fox Hills will have,” Kahn said.

LMU’s Stewart says the new retail trends are appealing to members of Generation X as well, who typically have families.

“What people are looking for now is retail integrated with different types of experiences that allow them to socialize,” said Stewart, who lives in Playa Vista. “I think you’ll begin to see larger retail shopping centers with common spaces that bring people together become more of a destination.”

Kahn said most of the center’s current tenants — including Cinemark 18, Starbucks and Dave & Busters — are still in place, creating an air of stability during the renovations. To date, only Wetzel’s Pretzels has left.

Stewart expects malls to continue emphasizing experiences over retail goods.

“The open-air style seems to be where current preferences lie,” he said. “The age of the traditional indoor mall is probably over.”