Cars soon will be unwelcome on Playa Vista's main drag. And a lot of people are happy about it

Roger Vincent, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES -- On any given day, cars roll slowly down the main shopping street of Playa Vista, just as they do in small towns everywhere.

After all, when it came to building a town center on land around famed aviator Howard Hughes's old airplane runway, it seemed right to let people drive through and perhaps park to grab a cup of coffee.

But those days are coming to a halt as the center, known as Runway, is being remade as a place where pedestrians will be more inclined to hang out, shop and eat -- without having to dodge vehicles.

After seeing the closed-off streets packed with people during farmers markets and other special events, manager DJM Capital Partners Inc. concluded that Runway's autocentric ethos was outdated and has decided to make the ban full time, even though the center was built only three years ago in the recently developed community.

The decision comes at a time when competition for shoppers' favor is especially intense on the Westside, where established street corridors like Montana Avenue and Abbot Kinney Boulevard are contending with Santa Monica Place and Westfield Century City, malls that have both undergone major redevelopments.

And it reflects a national trend to favor people over cars in the hope of creating a sense of relaxed intimacy, something the pedestrian-oriented Grove "lifestyle center" in the Fairfax district pioneered more than a decade ago -- but is now more imperative than ever as stores large and small stores go under in the face of changing tastes and online competition.

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"We think one of the great saviors of retail is public space," said Stenn Parton, senior vice president of retail at DJM. "We can fabricate foot traffic through programming and great on-campus experiences."

Runway, owned by Invesco Real Estate, has more than 220,000 square feet of retail space and is about the size of four city blocks, surrounded by Jefferson Boulevard, McConnell Avenue, Millennium Drive and Village Drive. It features a Whole Foods Market, a Cinemark movie theater complex, shops and restaurants. There are medical offices leased to Cedars-Sinai and more than 400 apartments for rent.

The complex was planned to be the "downtown" of Playa Vista, a coastal community near Marina del Rey built last decade on land where mid-20th century business mogul Howard Hughes ran his aviation empire.

The first residents arrived in Playa Vista in 2002 and it already is home to 6,000 residences and 9 million square feet of offices. Tenants include Google, Facebook, Belkin and Sony, making it part of the coastal "Silicon Beach" strip of communities that begins north at Santa Monica.


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