A step up for Culver City

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The Culver Steps is a big mixed-use project that broke ground Wednesday morning on the long-vacant Parcel B site in downtown Culver City. It's adjacent to the Culver Studios and the Culver Hotel, between Washington and Culver Boulevards. It’s designed by Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney (EYRC) Architects.

This project has been on a roller coaster. It has been through several owners and proposed designs and the city even had to fight to get it back from the state when Governor Jerry Brown killed the Community Redevelopment Agencies six years ago.

Its present owners are Hackman Capital Partners who also purchased Culver Studios, the home of the white plantation-style Culver Studios Mansion (famously seen in Gone with the Wind) and bungalows.

Now they are bringing Amazon Studios and related companies (IMDb, Amazon Video and World Wide Advertising) into the mansion and bungalows, with 700 employees currently based in Santa Monica making the move, and they’ve slightly rejigged the existing design to connect it visually to the mansion.

The project includes a four-story building with approximately 75,000 square feet of office space, 40,000 square feet of retail space, and a 35,000-square-foot public plaza with a grand staircase, landscaped terraces and seating areas.

"The steps will be our town square with a perfect view of the famed Gone With The Wind mansion. And then obviously then new future home of our friends from the Amazon Studios today really is a great day for Culver City. We're building the last piece of the downtown puzzle," Mayor Jeff Cooper said at the groundbreaking event.

This groundbreaking comes at a time of great change in Culver City. The area is attracting more and more trendy businesses and higher-income residents. It’s got a lot of new development around the Expo Line; it has a most exclusive culinary adventure called Vespertine, opened recently in the Hayden Tract; the Wende Museum of the Cold War opens at the National Guard Armory building there next week; and the city is being reborn as a location for entertainment companies, including Amazon, Sony, Apple TV and HBO, as well as a biotech company called Nantworks.

"We're a city on the rise. A place where people want to live, a city in which companies want to do business," Mayor Cooper said.

And the Culver Steps development is physically central to all this activity.

The project features lots of attractions for residents: a public plaza, eateries and more parking. Hopefully the project will ease the traffic congestion around it. Also, it’s been in the works for at least six years, so residents have had plenty of time to prepare for it and contribute their thoughts. It's expected to open by 2019.

Photo: A rendering of The Culver Steps development. (EYRC Architects)