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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

A Sporting Debate Over Studio City Project

A project that recently received approval is expected to bring major changes to Studio City, and not everyone’s on board.

The Los Angeles City Council recently voted 13-1 in support of The Residences at Sportsmen’s Lodge. The privately funded redevelopment project led by New York-based Midwood Investment & Development will reportedly cost $500 million and bring 520 units of new housing to the area, 78 of which will be affordable, plus approximately 45,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space along Ventura Boulevard.

It will rise adjacent to the Shops at Sportsmen’s Lodge – a 95,000-square-foot property, fully leased to tenants including Equinox, Erewhon, Sugarfish, Reformation and Vuori – another Midwood redevelopment project, which opened in December 2021.

The Residences at Sportsmen’s Lodge will require the demolition of the existing hotel and is intended to build off the success of the already repositioned shops.

“In general, the Studio City community, which is one of the highest resource areas in the city, has had very limited housing inventory and housing growth over recent history,” Scott Hayner, head of West Coast development at Midwood, says. “So, the additional 520 total units I think is very important to help build out the housing inventory and housing shortage in Studio City.”

In addition to new housing and retail offerings, the mid-century modern makeover, designed by Marmol Radziner in collaboration with Olin Studio, will feature a new direct connection between Ventura Boulevard and the Los Angeles Riverwalk pedestrian and cyclist path, as well as add more than 1,380 below-grade parking spaces.

“We’ve been a longstanding stakeholder in the Sportsmen’s Lodge site for 60-plus years,” Hayner says. “There’s a lot of history here. We feel very strongly about Studio City and are fully committed to the community. We are looking forward to bringing a new vibrant destination to Studio City with activated public spaces, top retailers, additional housing options, including affordable housing, and a direct connection to the Los Angeles River Walk path. The location itself is also on two major corridors, Coldwater Canyon and Ventura (Boulevard), which provides easy accessibility for the community.”

Activating Ventura Boulevard

The Residences at Sportsmen’s Lodge will be composed of three buildings, each ranging from three to seven stories, all featuring ground-floor retail.

Of the 520 units offered, 78 will be reserved very low-income affordable, with the remaining units priced market rate. Floorplans will reportedly range from studios up to two-bedrooms. 

“I think we all know that Los Angeles is facing a housing crisis, and a homeless crisis as well,” Sonnet Hui, general manager and vice president at Project Management Advisors Inc., says. “I think the only way to be able to address it is by providing more housing.”

Hui adds that, in Los Angeles, there’s a supply-and-demand imbalance when it comes to housing – categorized by a high demand but lack of supply, which in return drives up rental and housing costs and only exacerbates the county’s crisis.

In her opinion, mixed-income, mixed-use development projects like these are key in combatting that supply shortage and bridging the housing gap, in which people of varying income levels can coexist.

“I think that it is a much healthier society when people from mixed incomes can live side by side,” Hui says. “I think there’s a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship that can be very helpful.”

‘Not in my backyard’

But despite Midwood’s intentions, many community members are displeased with the company’s decision to convert the 1960s hotel site, which is said to have been a gathering place for Hollywood stars including Clark Gable, Bette David, John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn.

Multiple Valley-based organizations have stepped forward to oppose the demolition of the Sportsmen’s Lodge, including the Studio City Residents Association and Unite Here Local 11, a union that represents hospitality workers.

“Our union strongly believes that the Sportsmen’s Lodge is a historic hotel that should be preserved,” Kurt Peterson, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, says. “As SurveyLA stated in 2013, the Lodge mirrored the Valley’s growth, served as a roadside attraction to the Valley’s vibrant automobile culture, and as one of the Valley’s earliest fine dining locations. It also represents the Valley’s important connection to the entertainment industry. We continue to believe that with the demolition of the Event Center, the historic hotel is an important remaining link to that history, and therefore should be preserved.”

Others opposed include neighbors who fear that the redevelopment will bring unwanted heights to their once-suburban community. Specifically, the affordable housing component of the project permits Midwood to push the scale of the development, allowing relief from zoning rules through density-bonus incentives.

A rendering of the Sportsmen’s Lodge redevelopment plan.

“I think what’s been really interesting to see (is that) the city of Los Angeles and the state have implemented a lot of incentives that actually incentivize private developers to provide affordable housing and create truly mixed-income, mixed-use developments that are built on their dime, and not the city or state’s dime,” Hui says. “I think it’s actually a pretty creative way of trying to address a really severe problem.”

The new building will stand 94 feet high, taller than any other building in the area, and construction will involve excavating 430,000 cubic yards of dirt. According to Urbanize, the project may be the biggest seen in Studio City in recent memory; the Ventura-Cahuenga Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan has seen no residential construction since its inception more than 30 years ago.

Will It Bring Positive Change?

Other Valley groups believe the redevelopment will bring positive change to Studio City’s landscape, including the Valley Industry Commerce Association and the Valley Economic Alliance, both of which shared their strong support for the project prior to the April 4 city council hearing.

“Midwood has been an integral part of the Studio City fabric since the 1960s,” Stuart Waldman, president of VICA, said in a statement. “Their commitment to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into this project without seeking public funds for its affordable-housing component is not only commendable but a testament to their dedication to our community’s growth and well-being.”

Walking to your favorite shop or restaurant isn’t just convenient; it’s a lifestyle choice that the Residences at Sportsmen’s Lodge is set to encourage. By improving pedestrian access and connectivity, this project will significantly reduce congestion along Ventura Blvd., making our community safer, cleaner and more enjoyable for all,” Waldman adds. “This project represents a step forward in our collective vision for a more vibrant, inclusive and dynamic Studio City.”

Hayner says that while Midwood considered adaptive reuse, new construction was ultimately necessary to accommodate parking and maximize the site’s potential.

“It’s been a long timeframe to get approved,” Hayner says. “At this point, we are fully approved by the city council, which is a great step forward with the design and permitting to make this a reality.”

Midwood purchased the land from private developer Richard Weintraub in 2017. In 2019, the event center was demolished to make way for The Shops, which opened in 2021. While the Sportsmen’s Lodge remains today, the hotel itself has been nonoperational since 2020. Demolition of the hotel and construction of the Residences is scheduled to begin next year.

James Brock
James Brock
James Brock has worked in newsrooms around the world, including in New York, Paris, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Houston, and Los Angeles. He began his career with a Newhouse News daily, where he served on the news desk and the editorial page. He was the copy chief for The New York Sun, and founded and edited the personal finance section for Abu Dhabi-based The National, among other positions. He has interviewed Anthony Bourdain, Tom Ford, Mark Cuban, and many other individuals, and has written and edited thousands of stories and articles.

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