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McDonald’s Developer Finally Gets His Break

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

January 4 -- It took 12 years and a small fortune (millions) for Norman Kravetz to navigate Santa Monica's notorious planning process, but it looks like he and his business partners will finally get to build on a prime piece of Santa Monica realty -- a block away from the landmark Santa Monica Pier sign.

In mid-December, demolition crews quietly dismantled a McDonald's property -- the primary tenant on the Second Street and Colorado Avenue lot -- leaving nothing but a banner declaring the fast food restaurant will be back in 2007.

This week, construction crews will begin laying the groundwork for a three-story, 176,000-square- foot office building, including ground floor retail and 299 parking spaces. The price tag is expected to exceed $20 million.

After surviving what is perhaps the longest episode of permit wrangling in Santa Monica history, Kravetz said it feels good to finally begin to build.

"It's very exhilarating," said Kravetz, manager of Realty Bancorp Equities, which boasts over 2 million square feet of commercial space in cities such as Woodland Hills and Agoura Hills. "For something like this to finally be coming together is very exciting."

By Spring 2007, Kravetz and his firm will complete their first Santa Monica enterprise, which he says will bring to Santa Monica "safe, secure parking, quality pedestrian retail stores and the finest office space" for financial, legal and entertainment firms, though he is still negotiating with tenants.

Offices will feature patios and flow into a courtyard on the second story. Those with a hankering for a quarter-pounder can still visit the McDonald's on the ground floor, however, it will be relocated into a sleeker 4,500-square-foot facility on site -- with internet hook-up.

In what Kravetz said is "probably the most signature corner in Santa Monica", his firm's building plans also took into consideration the storied Santa Monica Pier sign, adding architectural flourishes such as towers "reflective of light houses" and a "fluidity" throughout the building design.

While excited, Kravetz said it has been a long road to construction.

"If we didn't have the financial strength and backing... we may have abandoned the project years ago," said Kravetz.

Over a course of more than a decade, Realty Bank Corporation spent millions of dollars navigating the City's planning department, Kravetz said. The long trek included designing and redesigning the project to pass the muster of the City’s Architectural Review Board (ARB), the Planning Commission and the City Council, appearing before each multiple times.

"In Santa Monica, there were many masters to serve," said Kravetz "Although we ended up with a quality project, I found that the ARB, Planning Commission, and council all wanted something different. They weren't unified in their thinking and it’s difficult for developers to know what each wants."

Now a veteran of Santa Monica's infamous planning process, Kravetz said there needs to be "more cohesion in the planning process.” The guidelines, he said, should be “closer to black and white, rather than shades of gray. They need to give more direction to developers."

Kravetz's suggestions echo the recommendation of a 2004 audit of the planning department by the Matrix firm. In addition to finding a lack of communication and coordination among various public oversight bodies -- such as the ARB and council -- Matrix also found that the planning department has been hamstrung by a high staff turnover rate and a shortage of personnel.

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