Investment in the Westchester mall anticipates more retail and entertainment spending

By Gary Walker

An architectural rendering depicts potential renovations for the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center Image courtesy of Laurus Corp.

An architectural rendering depicts potential renovations for the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center
Image courtesy of Laurus Corp.

New owners of the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center in Westchester are counting on the Westside’s creative tech-industry boom to support a renovated mall concept with more pedestrian-friendly, entertainment, dining and lifestyle amenities.

The West L.A.-based Laurus Corp. bought the Howard Hughes Center from the Irvine-based Passco Companies in June for about $100 million and plans to invest $30 million into renovating the mall, Laurus Corp. Chief Investment Officer Austin Kahn confirmed.

The influx of creative industry workers, especially in nearby Playa Vista, “brings an element to the area that wasn’t here in Los Angeles — young professionals working in the technology space who look at things a little differently, and that includes the types of entertainment and dining opportunities that they like,” Kahn said.

The Howard Hughes Center surrounding the mall is also a rising economic force, soon to have 1.3 million square feet of office space and some 3,200 high-rise apartment units, Kahn said.

Laurus Corp. President Jean Paul Szita did not specifically refer to Playa Vista’s creative office sector — less than a mile away from the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center — in an earlier interview with the Los Angeles Times, but did state that the company’s $30-million capital infusion comes in part due to the “purchasing power of the residents and employees who live and work in such close proximity.”

New design elements for the Promenade at Howard Hughes are being planned with the Silicon Beach workforce and Howard Hughes Center residents in mind.

“We’re hoping to make it more pedestrian-friendly so that people can circulate better throughout the center. There are a lot of retail spaces but they seem to be hidden from view. We also want more public areas for entertainment and lifestyle features, like cooking demonstrations and live music,” Kahn said.

Monica Trepany, president of local real estate firm Playa Realty, said Laurus Corp.’s investment has the potential to bear economic fruit over the long term.

“I think it’s a fabulous idea. It’s right between two vibrant areas — Playa Vista and Westchester homeowners [on the bluffs across from the Howard Hughes Center] — and they don’t really have a lot of places for activity,” said Trepany, who has worked on Westside real estate for 30 years.

Despite its prominent location on Sepulveda Boulevard and visibility from the 405, the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center has yet to fulfill its promise as a go-to Westside destination for shopping and entertainment.  It will now also be in stiff competition with the nearby Westfield Culver City Mall and the brand-new Runway at Playa Vista, the $260-million retail and entertainment anchor for Playa Vista.

“We think the center is in a great location, but a lot of people don’t seem to know that it’s there. One of our goals is to make sure that people know it’s there,” Kahn said.

Asked why she thinks the Hughes Center has not become as popular as previous owners had hoped, Trepany cited three possible reasons.

“The recession really did them in when it hit. Parking is another factor, because it not easily accessible. And when you have a marketplace that is not accustomed to paying for parking, they’re not going to want to pay for it,” she said.

Trepany also mentioned possible consumer anxiety generated by the January 2013 takeover robbery of the Nordstrom’s Rack department store at the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center, in which 14 people were held hostage for hours.

Nordstrom’s Rack has since moved to Westfield Culver City, and Kahn sees that as an opportunity to diversify the offerings at the Promenade at Howard Hughes.

“A change in the tenant mix might not be a bad idea. With Nordstrom’s departure there is the potential to reconfigure that space for more entertainment features to make it a more engaging place,” he said.

Kahn said Laurus Corp. anticipates beginning its redesign of Howard Hughes next summer.