The Beverly Hilton had previously noted its objections to the project in writing. But on Tuesday night, several representatives of the hotel — including an architect and a traffic consultant — testified against the Wanda project at the Beverly Hills Planning Commission.
Ted Kahan, the president of Oasis West Realty, the corporate parent of the Beverly Hilton, argued that the Wanda project poses “an undeniable danger to the future of the Beverly Hilton.”
Wanda bought the property, which is just to the west across Merv Griffin Way from the Beverly Hilton, in 2014. The city has already approved a 235-unit condominium project for the empty site where a Robinsons-May department store once stood. Wanda is seeking permission to change it into a 193-unit condo project with a 134-room luxury hotel.
The Hilton and Wanda are now gearing up for what looks to be a major fight. Both sides have hired two of the city’s top land-use attorneys: George Mihlsten of Latham & Watkins for the Hilton, and Dale Goldsmith of Armbruster Goldsmith & Delvac for Wanda. The attorneys went back and forth on Tuesday night over the traffic effects of the project and other issues raised in the city’s environmental review.
“The project will be a transportation disaster for the Hilton and the community,” Mihlsten argued. “It does not work.”
Goldsmith countered that the project pales in comparison to the Hilton, which has its own controversial plans to build a 26-story condominium tower.
“This is a very small boutique hotel,” Goldsmith said. “It has a quarter of the rooms of the Hilton.”
Wanda is China’s largest real estate developer, and is now expanding abroad with projects in Chicago and London in addition to the Beverly Hills proposal. The conglomerate is also the largest cinema operator in the U.S., with AMC Theatres, and recently announced its intention to buy one of the six major film studios.
Its Beverly Hills plans are starting to gather attention in Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the Weinstein Company, sent a letter to the City Council supporting the Wanda plan, which is known as One Beverly Hills.
“I know the Wanda Group well — they are first class and incredibly civic-minded,” Weinstein wrote. “Both the city and the entertainment industry need this structure to aid in the smooth running of the ever-busy awards season. Instead of taking our public relations campaigns for new films to the Four Seasons or other hotels in Los Angeles and West Hollywood, we would like to remain in Beverly Hills. One Beverly Hills is perfectly suited to serve all of our requirements. We can book our talent’s stays there, arrange interviews with the press, host dinners and even hold photo shoots to promote our movie’s opening. All of these events will be reported as happening in Beverly Hills, creating amazing tourism opportunities for the city of Los Angeles and for Beverly Hills.”
But the Hilton’s representatives contend that the new hotel will cause gridlock on Santa Monica Boulevard and Merv Griffin Way. The Hilton hosts the Golden Globes, the Milken Institute Global Conference and many other events. The Hilton raised particular objections to the location of the Wanda project’s loading dock, which is directly across from the main entrance to the Hilton. Hilton’s reps said they do not want traffic tied up by garbage trucks and other heavy vehicles entering and exiting the Wanda hotel.
“The Wanda project has turned their backside to the Beverly Hilton,” Mihlsten said.
Jay Newman, a hotelier who has partnered with Wanda, showed video simulations of garbage trucks entering the property, showing that they could do so without making multiple-point turns. Newman also argued that the Hilton is currently using Merv Griffin Way as a construction area for the new Waldorf Astoria hotel. Newman argued that the Hilton’s traffic arguments were simply “a smokescreen for concerns about non-competition.”
An attorney for the nearby Peninsula Hotel also testified against the Wanda project, as did a representative from UNITE HERE Local 11, the hotel and restaurant workers’ union. UNITE HERE represents employees at the Beverly Hilton.
The Planning Commission is expected to continue its hearing on the project on Sept. 19.