Watch Out! The Westside Train Is About to Arrive in L.A.; Here's All You Need to Know
A touch of East Coast hits Santa Monica in 2016 as employees at Lionsgate and Maker Studios, among others, get a new convenience and the commerce (SoulCycle! Joan’s on Third!) to go with it.
This story first appeared in the June 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Los Angeles' promised "subway-to-the-sea" isn't going to transform the city anytime soon: The Purple Line along Wilshire Boulevard, which departs west from downtown and currently ends in Koreatown, is set to advance to the eastern edge of Beverly Hills by 2023, projecting to finally reach Westwood by 2035, with a final leg extending all the way to the Pacific still unfunded and unscheduled.
Yet a few miles south, another Metro system, the surface-level light rail Expo Line, will connect the resurgent downtown core with Santa Monica by early 2016 — also linking a thrumming corridor of entertainment companies along its route, from Sony in Culver City to Fandango in West L.A. to HBO in Santa Monica. The $1.5 billion, 19-station route will run 15.2 miles — an estimated 45-minute trip from its origin at Seventh Street to the final stop, kitty-corner to the Bloomingdale's at Santa Monica Place. The track follows a long-inactive Southern Pacific Railroad pathway, first opened in 1875, that increasingly has become an engine of mixed-use development. "About four-fifths of the people working in that part of the Westside don't live there, which creates serious congestion," says Paul Habibi, a lecturer at UCLA's Ziman Center for Real Estate. "With this line, that's going to change."
Firms in Culver City, where the Expo Line arrived in 2012, already have witnessed a substantive shift. (That's hardly surprising, since Metro's initial ridership goal for 2020 — weekday use by 27,000 people — was exceeded in less than two years.) "People will say, 'Let's go downtown for lunch,' " says Courtney Holt, chief strategy officer at Maker Studios, who rides the rail to Staples Center after work for Clippers games. "It's a serious boon." Adds Dave Mannix, GM at The Culver Studios: "Most of us utilize the Expo Line for meetings downtown. I think when the Santa Monica leg opens up, we will see much more use."
Daily commuting, of course, is the Expo Line's primary purpose. "I take it because it's now a time in the day where I can read scripts, take a hot second to watch movies on my phone and just relax," says Nicholas Veneroso, head of production at web video outfit Jash, who connects from his home in North Hollywood via the Red Line through downtown and observes that the early-adopter train demo so far is heavy on "mid-20s hipsters — dudes with mustaches and cuffed-up pants."
A welter of luxury-oriented residential and commercial projects is in the works within the quarter-mile "capture area" (as planning types refer to the roughly five-minute-walk radius) of the route's stations, from a new condo complex on Ocean Avenue called The Seychelle, which soon will boast an outpost of Joan's on Third, to The Platform, a chic multi-use facility adjoining the Culver City stop, whose boutique retail tenants are set to include San Francisco patisserie Craftsman and Wolves, Australian beauty brand Aesop and third-wave coffee purveyor Blue Bottle. (The first stores are slated to open by year's end.) "SoulCycle is coming in, too," says The Platform's developer Joseph Miller of The Runyon Group. "These kinds of brands are excited about the whole story of being around there — the art scene, the companies like Beats and Maker — and the transit is a key part of it as we push the area to be a little like the Marais in Paris and Shoreditch in London."
Not everyone has been seduced by the Expo Line's impending extension. Imax chose to move to Playa Vista rather than settle for its former Exposition Boulevard headquarters in Santa Monica being sandwiched between a train-washing platform and the maintenance area. "We did a sound test," says Imax CEO Greg Foster, "and found that doing an approval screening with a Christopher Nolan or a James Cameron as trains are whizzing by probably wasn't the most conducive situation for success."
But most entertainment firms are eagerly anticipating the line. "Another alternative to sitting in traffic is certainly going to be a real positive, and I think we're going to see a strong response, given our already pretty active ride-share program," says Ross Pollack, executive vp and chief human resources officer at Lionsgate Entertainment in Santa Monica, whose 600 staffers — only 70 of whom live locally — are based near the soon-to-be Bergamot Station (currently the site of a cluster of small galleries whose future is in doubt). Agrees Innovative Artists head Scott Harris, who runs his office with a head count of more than 100 close to the next stop, at 17th Street: "I'll certainly be incentivizing employees to drive less and take this more. Some people obviously have to have their cars to go to screenings. But I'm sure the assistants and accounting department will be taking it."