Wanda Wins Approval for $1.2 Billion Beverly Hills Development

The Dalian Wanda Group won final approval on Tuesday to build a $1.2 billion hotel-and-condo project in Beverly Hills, allowing the Chinese mega-developer to establish a major foothold in Southern California.

The Beverly Hills City Council approved the project’s development agreement on a 4-1 vote. Wanda plans to construct two towers — one 13 stories, the other 15 stories — which will hold 134 hotel rooms and 193 condominiums. The project is expected to break ground next year and open in 2020.

The approval comes two years after Wanda bought the eight-acre property between Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards, formerly the site of a Robinsons-May department store. It also follows a bitter fight with the Beverly Hilton, which is across Merv Griffin Way. The Hilton’s owner, Beny Alagem, lobbied strenuously against the project, taking particular exception to a loading dock that will be directly across from the Hilton’s main entrance.

In a dozen public hearings spanning three months, the planning commission and city council turned those objections away and left the project essentially unchanged. The city did negotiate an agreement with Wanda whereby the project will generate hotel tax and fees estimated at $820 million over 30 years.

“I think we feel we made a great deal on behalf of the city,” Mayor John Mirisch told Variety. “I hope it sets a model for other cities as well.”

Rohan a’Beckett, the deputy general manager of Wanda Beverly Hills, issued a statement thanking city officials for supporting “an iconic property at the western gateway of Beverly Hills.”

“Our entire team is extremely excited to finally start construction on this long-delayed project, and provide new financial and public benefits that will contribute to the quality of life for the entire community,” a’Beckett said.

Though Tuesday’s approval marks the final step in the city’s entitlement process, it is possible that the drama will continue. The Hilton could sue to invalidate the project’s environmental report, or gather signatures for a referendum to overturn the council’s approval. The Hilton’s representatives have not ruled out that possibility.

“We continue to have serious concerns about the severely flawed and potentially dangerous access plan on Santa Monica Boulevard and the project’s loading dock across from the guest entrance to the Beverly Hilton,” Hilton spokeswoman Marie Garvey said. “We will weigh all our options now that the city has approved the project.”

Councilwoman Nancy Krasne, who cast the dissenting vote on Tuesday, said the project is too big for the site and will cause gridlock.

“You can’t put 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5-pound bag,” Krasne said in an interview. “I’m not blinded by money. Money comes and money goes.”

Krasne also raised concerns about Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin, who has emerged as a major player in Hollywood. Over the last year, Wang’s company has acquired Legendary Entertainment, Dick Clark Productions and Carmike Cinemas, and touted the creation of an $8 billion studio in Qingdao. Wang — known as China’s richest man — has also expressed the ambition to acquire a major studio.

“Anyone that pounds their chest and says, ‘I’m the richest man in China,’ disturbs me more than anything else,” Krasne said. “Anyone that has this big an ego — we’re gonna have that big a problem… But it’s a fait accompli now.”

Alagem had his own plans to construct a 26-story condo tower alongside the Hilton, but Beverly Hills voters rejected that plan on Nov. 8. Wanda Beverly Hills contributed $1.2 million to a campaign to defeat the measure. Instead, Alagem will revert to an earlier plan to build two towers of 8 and 18 stories.

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