The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to move forward in negotiating a 50-year lease with Wolfgang Puck to open a Frank Gehry-designed restaurant on the waterfront site along Pacific Coast Highway currently occupied by Gladstones.
“It will be a restaurant for everybody in the city,” Puck said, telling the board that he envisions a casual, more affordable cafe, an upscale dining room and an ice cream shop for families to drop in.
Puck’s restaurant empire started 36 years ago when he opened Spago in West Hollywood. “Last year was our best year yet,” he said, pointing to continuity in operations — Spago, now in Beverly Hills, is still a top dining draw — as a reason to choose him to take over the site.
The restaurateur said it was his “lifelong dream” to work with Gehry, whose architectural landmarks include the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
Puck shared preliminary conceptual drawings for the project showing a long, light-toned structure lying along the highway that connects three distinct window-walled sections opening onto the beach side of the property. Early plans for the 2.8-acre site include casual dining areas serving a changing menu of locally-sourced, farm-to-table cuisine, a lounge, rooftop bar, public deck, small retailers including an ice cream shop, and a monument to Gladstones.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who represents the Third District where the Pacific Palisades landmark is located, hailed the board’s 3-1 vote.
“Two local icons, chef Wolfgang Puck and architect Frank Gehry, are offering to combine forces with L.A. County to reimagine one of our legendary landmarks and transform it into a world-class, must-see, must-eat dining destination,” Kuehl said.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the lone dissenter, objected because of concerns raised by another bidder, who claimed there were flaws in the selection process and urged the board to delay the vote until all members were present. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was out of town.
Department of Beaches and Harbors Director Gary Jones assured the board that the process followed all applicable rules and that the losing bidder was ranked significantly the winning bidder — the newly formed PCH Beach Associates, LLC, which is comprised of Puck; Cast Iron Partners, LLC, which will finance the project; and Tellefsen Investments Inc., which will develop and build it.
A summary prepared for the board cited the group’s operations and construction experience, along with financial strength, as evidence of its ability to deliver as promised.
Jones and his department were given the authority to spend 90 days negotiating an agreement with PCH Beach Associates, with an option to extend those discussions for another two months.
Sunset at Ocean Partners, LLC, the second-ranked proposer, will “stay close to the process,” partner Nick Buford told City News Service outside the board meeting.
The minority-owned group protested the selection process in a letter to the board dated March 23 citing “blatant legal errors” and accusing the county of being so “dazzled” by Puck and Gehry’s celebrity status that it violated state laws designed to guarantee impartiality.
“Even celebrities must follow the rules,” Greg Plummer of Sunset at Ocean Partners told the board.
Buford and Plummer said their “highly curated” concept was developed in partnership with Alan Jackson, founder of the California-based Lemonade chain; Westside Rentals founder Mark Verge; nightlife entrepreneur Cedd Moses; and Los Angeles restaurateurs Neal and Amy Fraser of Redbird.
“Sunset aims to create a dining and entertainment destination that is focused on the future of L.A. County, rather than relying solely on icons of the past,” the group’s attorneys wrote the board, noting that Sunset also offered to pay rent from day one, while PCH Beach Associates asked for a 50 percent credit on the first 15 years of rent.
But the county dismissed their concept as a “food court,” Buford said, despite similarities in the two proposals.
“If you were to put our name on their proposal, I don’t think it would be the same outcome,” Plummer said.
The group is calling on the county to release the names of the independent reviewers who ranked the bids.
The competitive process began in April 2017 and a total of four bidders responded by the September 2017 deadline.
Kuehl helped pass legislation that allowed the county to extend the concession agreement to 50 years. Such agreements on state land are typically capped at 20 years, which in turn had limited the total investment anyone was willing to make on the site.
Gladstones will continue to operate under a two- to five-year agreement until the execution of a concession contract with PCH Beach Associates, a further step in the process that is slated to take place within 18 months of the initial agreement.
Kuehl said she was already looking forward to seeing the project take shape, calling it an “exciting synergy of talent, cultural and culinary work.