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The leasing strategy behind the remake of a Los Angeles classic

June 21, 2021

By way of unique and local retailers, developers are restoring and adding to the luster of an iconic Los Angeles landmark just as the market begins reopening post-pandemic. Midwood and Weintraub Real Estate Group plan to open the first stores in The Shops at Sportsmen’s Lodge — a $100 million, 90,000-square-foot retail center at Ventura Boulevard and Coldwater Canyon Avenue in Studio City — in late summer.

RELATED: Turning the Hollywood & Highland shopping center into Ovation

Kicking off the rolling openings will be anchor tenant Erewhon, an upscale market and cafe known for its selection of organic, healthy, pure, nutrient-rich foods. This will be Erewhon’s seventh Los Angeles location and its first in the San Fernando Valley. Other tenants scheduled to open over the summer include Civil Coffee, women’s athletic retailer Free People Movement, haircare product purveyor Madison Reed, physical therapy company Myodetox, wellness center Next Health, Roberta’s Pizza, Salt Optics, Mexican restaurateur Tocaya Organiza, Tuesday’s Sweet Shoppe, Japanese restaurateur Ushi Ushi, ice creamery Van Leeuwen and athleisure retailer Vuori. More than a dozen more plan to open by year’s end. Prior to opening, the center was nearly 95 percent leased.

“Sportsmen’s Lodge was the social center of the Valley,” said Midwood CEO John Usdan. “With upscale dining and shopping, midcentury modern architecture and California-friendly landscaping that honor the site, and bespoke amenities and programming, The Shops at Sportsmen’s Lodge will breathe new life into this beloved site.”

Midwood’s ties to the property date back to 1925, when company founder Samuel Lemberg developed the original Sportsmen’s Lodge Hotel. Four years ago, the land around the hotel came up for sale, and Midwood saw an opportunity to redevelop it into a retail center. “We knew about Studio City and the dynamics of the site for many, many years, and so when the opportunity arose to buy the remaining parcel and combine it all into one, we kind of jumped at it,” said executive vice president of leasing Ron Bondy.

Midwood hopes to re-create it as a destination-oriented center. “There is really no commercial venue in Studio City that has a sense of place,” said Bondy. “The majority of the commercial business around that area is done on Ventura Boulevard, so you park your car, you walk into where you are going, you get back in your car and you go to the next place. We think this is a really unique opportunity in a market that is not only very well educated and affluent but also very underserved to create a gathering place and a point of respite for the community. We are clearly putting a major investment there.”

Leasing strategy

Midwood’s leasing program started two years ago, pre-pandemic, and was built on several pillars. “Health, wellness and beauty are important to the L.A. customer, in addition to an enormous opportunity for dining,” said Bondy. “The Studio City area is really one of the most underseated areas around L.A. for dining and then certainly retail and soft goods, so those were really the three pillars that we wanted to build the project around.”

The leasing also focused heavily on retailers that were local and unique. “We did not want to fill this project up with national brands,” he said. “We really wanted to bring in the heart and soul of L.A. with regard to retail and dining. We had opportunities to bring in some. There was a very, very big hamburger chain that wanted to be there and it would have been a very good deal for us, but we decided to go with a more local brand that was much more interesting and a bit below the radar.”

He notes a few of the local brands that Midwood targeted early on. “When we made the deal with Vuori, they were really a regional brand of athleisure, and they have now grown in a very short period of time into more national stature, but we were early adopters of that brand. Salt, which is a very well-known optical brand, is going to open their first retail store, and they are West Coast-centric. We feel really, really proud of the fact that we were able to draw from the local entrepreneurial community and have those brands represented in the project.”

Core to the center’s leasing strategy was a major anchor tenant, hence Erewhon. “Immediately, it was clear to us that they were our first, second and third choice because we wanted to also bring tenancies in that would bring people here on a daily basis,” said Bondy. “When you look at a traditional mall, people will go to a clothing store once a month or once every two months, and we want people here every day. So Erewhon, the dining, and brands like Next Health and Myodetox for the wellness category are going to be woven in to the daily lives of the customers.”

Leasing during the pandemic

Bondy said the pandemic did impact leasing. “We had a lot of our key tenancies already in place. However, it did slow us down; there is no question. We had to create some deals through COVID that at least give some of the retailers confidence that they could be profitable during any sort of period of reduced occupancy, until the world kind of opens up a bit more. But the one thing that we have held very firmly to because we believe so staunchly in the future success of this project is: We gave up a little bit of short-term value. But in the long term, we have held firm to the rents that we projected from the get-go.”

Bondy said late 2020 brought an “inflection point” for the leasing. “It was becoming clear that the advent of the vaccine was upon us and that there was light at the end of the tunnel with regard to the pandemic, and then all of a sudden, the floodgates opened and we ended up with some really, really transformational tenants signing up in the very first part of 2021.”

The project is designed to be an oasis in the heart of the city, including an abundance of water features that harken back to the original project in the early 1900s. For the modern-day update, Midwood hired Gensler and Olin and worked with the Cultural Heritage Commission, which oversees landmarks, on the final designs. Bondy said: “What we are creating there in terms of the ambience and sense of place is going to be extremely unique.”

By Ben Johnson

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today

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