And then there were four.
Four developers have made the final cut to bid on what is arguably the most prized parcel of land in Culver City, Parcel B.
The final four – the Tolkin Group, Cardiff/N3, Combined Hudson/Pacific and Runyon Partners – will make their presentations to members of the Redevelopment Agency on Monday, Oct. 3 and Tuesday, Oct. 4. Joseph Miller, a Culver City resident whose family owned the automobile dealership Miller Toyota in Culver City, owns Runyon Partners.
There has only been one workshop on Parcel B in recent months and was held last year. Community organizations were hoping to get a look at the developers’ design plans before October, but Community Development Director Sol Blumenfeld has barred prospective bidders from displaying them.
Blumenfeld requested that they wait until the agency reviewed them before any community organization had the opportunity to see them.
“During the presentations, the community will be invited to view, comment and pose questions on each of the proposals. Please do not violate the approved RFP process by presenting your proposals in advance of the council presentations, as the October council hearings are to be the first public presentations of the project submittals,” the director wrote to the four the development firms on Sept. 13.
Meghan Sahli- Wells, the head of the Culver City Downtown Neighborhood Association, was disheartened when she learned that members of her organization, who live in neighborhoods within several blocks of Parcel B, would not be able to see the prospective designs until after their agency presentation.
“I think that it was fabulous that the developers reached out to us,” she said. “But why the city asked them not to present to us was very disappointing.
“All we’re interested in is input,” she said.
Miller said while he wanted “to keep an open line of communication with my neighbors and fellow business owners as a resident and business owner in downtown Culver City,” the developers were asked to abide by Blumenfeld’s request.
“City staff asked us not to make any presentations before the Oct. 3 and 4 meetings so that the agency would get the first look at our projects. I understand and respect their decision and am looking forward to having a robust two-way conversation with all of the neighborhood groups after the agency presentations,” the developer told the News.
Vice Mayor Scott Malsin said he was unaware of Blumenfled’s order prohibiting the developers from showing their designs in public before city leaders had a chance to see them until a constituent informed him.
“I didn’t learn our staff’s decision to ask the developers not to present to the community prior to the agency meetings in October until I heard about it from a resident,” he said. “It doesn’t matter much to me one way or the other, but I respect our staff’s determination to defer to the agency.
“We – the agency and the community – will all get a chance to look at the proposals together.”
The companies were required to submit their qualifications for consideration before being issued a request for proposal through what is known as a request for qualifications.
Geoff Maleman, a spokesman for Tom Davies of Cardiff/ N3, said having developers go through what is known as an RFQ can help cities whittle down the number of firms that are qualified for a certain project. “It is beneficial for the city, which gets the opportunity to trim a potentially long list of developers down to a shorter list of qualified development teams,” Maleman said. “And beneficial for the developer, who gets eliminated or advanced to the final round before spending huge amounts of money on site plans, renderings, etc.”
Malsin agreed that there were benefits to using the method by which the development firms were selected. “I think releasing a request for qualifications in advance of a request for proposals was a good idea. It takes a developer considerably less time and money to respond to an RFQ, so by doing so, you are likely to have a larger percentage of qualified firms deciding to throw their hat in the ring,” Malsin, a former Culver City Planning commissioner, explained.
“The city then reviews the responses it receives to the RFQ to determine which respondents have the greatest financial strength and development experience, as well as which have the best experience building projects comparable to what we want to see.”
RFQ solicitations typically focus on the qualifications of the potential providers, while request for proposal require a technical and management approach and often a fee proposal, said Karen Wolfe, a public relations specialist who once worked for famed architect Frank Gehry.
An advantage to asking for the RFQ first and then followed by an RFP often results in a smaller number of qualified firms solicited, Maleman suggested, reducing the demands on both the reviewing agency and the professional services community in the selection process.
A disadvantage of this two-part solicitation process is the time required to complete the advertisement, preparation and review of the two submittals.
The vice mayor said that he could not recall if they had managed the process this way in the past.
Sahli-Wells said she thinks the idea of having a local developer like Miller for the project has some merit. “In theory, I like the fact that the money stays local,” she said. “But I would also need to see what the other developers’ designs look like.”
Malsin says even though Miller has local ties, it is incumbent on the agency to choose the developer that is best qualified for the downtown parcel.
“Joseph Miller is certainly very familiar with our city and we have had experience working with him, but each of the development teams we are talking to is very experienced and professional,” Malsin said. “We have to keep our ‘eyes on the prize’: the realization of a project that is the best it can be.”
Miller thinks his development firm has a sense of what Culver City residents want to see at Parcel B due to its local ties.
“As a resident and business owner in Culver City, I think I am uniquely knowledgeable about what city officials and residents want to see in a project,” he asserted, adding that he walks or rides his bicycle past Parcel B almost every day. “Our proposal is not only a response to what the residents and businesspeople of Culver City want, it is a product of the hard work and vision of people who live and work here.”
The developer’s architect for the project, Trevor Abramson, has called downtown Culver City home for 15 years and his landscape architect, Jeff Gainey, lives on nearby Jasmine Avenue.
“While the inspiration and vision for the design is an important reason to select a local team, an equally important reason is the fact that we have a deeply vested interest in seeing a high-quality project actually built,” Miller noted.
Sahli-Wells said she would like to see the developers present their designs to community groups subsequent to the Oct 3 and 4 dates, because not everyone is likely to attend those meetings.
“I think that public input to date has been less than exemplary,” she said.
Blumenfeld did not return calls for comment.
The agency anticipates making a final decision on who will build Parcel B later this year.