On Thursday, June 18, 2015, ULI members and guests were given an exclusive first-look at one of Los Angeles’ newest and most innovative transit-oriented mixed users – Culver City’s long awaited Platform. Located at the edge of the Hayden Tract at Washington and National Boulevards, the project is named for its close proximity to the Culver City station of the new Expo Line, soon to connect downtown L.A. to Santa Monica. From its inception to its execution, it was the intention of the developers that everything about Platform be new, unique, and different from anything before and ULI members were given a peek behind the curtain.
The sold-out ULI event began with guided tours of the yet to be completed project by Joe Miller and David Fishbein, co-founders of Runyon Group, the development firm behind Platform. This was followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session where Miller and Fishbein were joined by project architect Trevor Abramson of Abramson Teiger Architects, contractor Curt Jennings of Del Amo Construction, leasing consultant Jim Jacobson of Industry Partners, and early tenant Ashley Marlowe, Director of Real Estate for Equinox and SoulCycle. The panel was moderated by Ira Dankberg, Founder of Urban Strategies Consulting.
Moderator and panelists, from left to right: Ira Dankberg, Founder of Urban Strategies Consulting; Joe Miller and David Fishbein, co-founders Runyon Group; Trevor Abramson, Abramson Teiger Architects; Ashley Marlowe, Director of Real Estate, Equinox and SoulCycle; Curt Jennings, Del Amo Construction; and Jim Jacobson, Industry Partners. Photo by Tim Braseth
The project has a storied past that begins with Joe Miller’s family’s ownership of the two acre parcel for nearly sixty years while it was the site of some of their several automotive dealerships, most recently Nissan, Hyundai and Mazda. In the early 00’s, the family sold the property to a private equity firm with plans for residential development. Unable to get the entitlements, and crippled by the economic crisis of 2008, the property went into foreclosure and in early 2010, Miller was able to acquire it for fifty-cents on the dollar.
Miller, then just 27, was finishing his first development project, Culver Centrale, eighteen two-bedroom luxury condominiums in downtown Culver City with 5,500 square feet of ground floor retail space. Culver Centrale was a resounding success, quickly selling-out at prices as high as $950,000 despite a challenging economic climate, and Miller’s vision for the troubled lot alongside the new Expo Line tracks was embraced by city leaders after hearing proposals from three other developers, Tolkin Group, Cardiff/N3, and Combined Hudson/Pacific. The project was announced in late 2011 with backing from the satisfied investors in Culver Centrale, and Miller hit the ground running.
According to Miller, what sets Platform apart from the many other retail-driven mixed users is his vision to make every aspect of the project from its architecture to its tenant mix new, unique, and different, and this vision drove every aspect of the project from its conception to its design to its leasing strategy. For example:
- Miller described seeing a void when looking at the retail and dining choices around Los Angeles, particularly good outdoor dining in a city with one of the best climates for it. So Miller anchored Platform with an expansive rooftop indoor-outdoor restaurant, its vast space, vaulted ceiling, and extensive glazing striking many on the tour as evocative of an old European train station.
Platform’s rooftop indoor-outdoor restaurant is on the same level as the adjacent elevated light rail tracks. Photo by Tim Braseth.
Rendering courtesy of Runyon Group.
- Rather than list the spaces for lease and wait for the retail tenants to come, Miller and Fishbein drew up a list of one hundred carefully curated targets, all new to Los Angeles or even the U.S., and hit the road to convince their targets to come on board. The strategy worked. Signing-on early in the project were Oakland’s popular Blue Bottle Coffee, Australian skin care brand Aesop, an outpost of chef Michael White’s popular New York restaurant The Cannibal Beer & Butcher, and the West Coast headquarters of Equinox’s newly acquired SoulCyle, then expanding from a few New York City studios to 41 locations nationwide.
- Instead of razing the rambling collection of body shops, auto repair bays and showrooms littering the site and starting from scratch, Miller chose to preserve his family’s former buildings and, through adaptive reuse, transformed the vintage buildings into creative office and retail spaces complete with exposed brick walls, trussed ceilings and, in some cases, roll-up garage doors. New multi-story retail and office buildings are infill, with meandering pedestrian arcades and open plazas tying the spaces together.
Rendering courtesy of Runyon Group.
- Miller and Fishbein’s creative process included multi-page “stories” and accompanying Pinterest boards for each building, and a fifty-page document studying the project’s “clients” – who is expected to come to Platform, how are they going to use it, and how will they move through it?
The complex is intended to be a round-the-clock destination for shopping and dining during all meal periods, from breakfast to late night suppers, fueled by the workers in the 60,000 square feet of offices. A residential component was eliminated early in the planning process to make more room for higher-paying office tenants.
The other panelists described how their involvement in the project was driven largely by Miller’s and Fishbein’s enthusiasm, passion, and unique vision.
- Project architect Trevor Abramson recalled his first meeting with Miller and Fishbein, admitting to finding their youth a bit off-putting, being nearly the same age as Abramson’s own son. But he was quickly won over and set out to create a dynamic “urban environment” as opposed to yet another shopping mall.
- SoulCycle’s Ashley Marlowe recalled her search for a West Coast headquarters, wanting to differentiate SoulCycle from parent company Equinox headquartered in Beverly Hills. Canvassing creative communities up and down the West Coast, she was honing-in on Culver City when she met Miller and Fishbein at a conference and was convinced to sign-on.
- When asked how Platform succeeded in signing above average rents, leasing consultant Jim Jacobson of Industry Partners cited Miller’s and Fishbein’s success at making Platform a place where people want to be, where they want to go every day, and everyone’s desire to work in an environment that inspires. In addition to SoulCycle’s headquarters, office tenants are a mix of tech-based content creators and post production companies, some of which are moving out of overly-congested Santa Monica. All 50,000 square feet of retail space and 60,000 square feet of office space is reportedly either leased or in final negotiations.
Runyon Group doesn’t intend to stop when Platform opens in the fall of 2015. Miller and Fishbein are already in the process of pursuing adjacent parcels on which to expand, and eyeing similar Platform-branded development opportunities in cities worldwide.
As Los Angeles continues to be transformed by mass transit and challenged by a rapidly growing and evolving population, the Urban Land Institute will continue to monitor planners’ and developers’ responses to new needs and opportunities. Platform may be one new approach to transit-oriented development, but it’s certain not going to be the last.
This article was written by Timothy Braseth of ArtCraft Homes LLC. ArtCraft Homes is a real estate investment firm developing creative, sustainable and affordable housing for the discriminating buyer.