45-story condo tower planned for L.A.

$400M residential tower would be located in Westside, prices reflect ultra-luxury market

Plans for a 45-story, wisp-thin tower of ultra-luxury condominiums between Beverly Hills High School and the Los Angeles Country Club are set to be unveiled today. Developers say it would be one of the most expensive residential buildings in the West.

The $400-million tower along one of the area's toniest corridors would be the first building in California designed by renowned Paris architect Jean Nouvel, known for his daring designs. He is proposing a narrow glass structure with sweeping views through the building and extensive greenery ringing each floor.

The developer predicts the project will attract European and Asian globe-trotters as well as local empty-nesters ready to move from sprawling Westside mansions to roomy condominiums complete with concierge services, a private club, first-run movie screenings and valet parking.

Even at a time of economic uncertainty -- when Southern California employers are trimming payrolls, stock prices are falling and home values are dropping -- the demand for luxury housing continues nearly unabated in the Westside. And with it has come more traffic and growing homeowner resentment about construction and congestion.

Prices have not been set for the proposed condos at 10000 Santa Monica Blvd. But units in the ultra-luxury Century tower being built in nearby Century City are being offered at a range of $3.2 million to $30 million, and the Nouvel condos are expected to be even more pricey.

Two top-drawer projects are also being planned around the intersection of Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards in Beverly Hills. Last year, British developers paid $500 million for the former Robinson-May department store at the site, where a 252-unit condo and retail complex designed by prominent architect Richard Meier has been proposed.

"How much high-end product can the market bear in such a close proximity?" asked real estate broker Gary Weiss of Madison Partners, who called the planned Nouvel building "extraordinarily ambitious."

Nouvel's developer, SunCal Cos., said it was undeterred by slumping home sales in Southern California and hoped to break ground in 2009. The company said it expected to start seeking formal city approvals next week.

"What we are really doing is addressing an underserved component of the market," said Frank Faye, chief operating officer of SunCal. "We are confident we would be able to sell these units today and we will be able to sell them quite rapidly once they're made available."

Considered one of the most desirable locations for development in the country, the vacant lot was the object of a high-profile bidding war in 2006 when Irvine home builder SunCal finally topped New York developer Donald Trump with a $110.2-million offer for just 2.4 acres.

Ever since, the site has been eyed with curiosity and suspicion in an area where homeowners have already expressed alarm about the rapid pace of development. "The truth is that people are happy in their neighborhood and they don't want to see it change," said Kevin Hughes, president of the Cheviot Hills Homeowners' Assn.

Plans call for 177 units, with two to six condominiums per floor. Elevators would serve every condo directly so there would be no corridors between units.

"Each residence is designed as a home in the sky surrounded by an abundance of plants and flowers but with no visual limits to the spectacular views of the city, mountains and ocean," Nouvel said.

In Los Angeles, "we have to build buildings especially for this climate," he said. "From the boulevard, it will look like a vertical garden."

City Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents Century City, said he supported Nouvel's concept. "We have never had someone of this caliber designing something residential on the Westside," he said.

"My public-policy goal has been to make Century City a world-class residential destination," Weiss said. "That creates benefits because people can live near where they work and traffic is generated at off-peak hours."

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