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LOS ANGELES-The developer of Playa Vista, the biggest infill development in LA’s history, has announced contracts with several merchant builders to erect more than $500 million in homes on the site and has opened a high-tech visitor center that will serve as the project gateway.

Combined, the contracts and the opening of the visitor center serve as one of the biggest milestones yet in the history of the 1,087-acre parcel in Playa del Rey. When the project is finished several years from now, it is expected to include 13,000 homes, 750 hotel rooms, and 5.1 million sf of commercial space.

The project will also include more than 40 community parks. To get the required approvals, Playa Vista—which is backed by a consortium of lenders than include Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs–also agreed to pay for the costly restoration of 340 acres of adjacent wetlands and habitat and to reserve 25% of the homes for low- and moderate-income renters and buyers.

At a press conference inside the new visitor’s center, Playa Vista president Peter Denniston said his company has already closed sales for land inside the development with builders that include Fairfield Residential, the Lee Group and Shea Homes. Several other deals will close within weeks with companies that include Standard Pacific, Warmington Homes, John Laing Homes and Western Pacific Housing.

In all, Denniston says, three residential developments are already under way at Playa Vista and another 13 communities will be started by September. Construction has also started on the first commercial venture inside the development, a 426,000-sf office complex known as Water’s Edge that is being built by a partnership of privately held Maguire Partners of Los Angeles and Chicago-based REIT giant Equity Office Properties Trust.

Plans to develop the parcel date back to at least the 1960s, when the land was owned by Howard Hughes’ Summa Corp. But a number of factors—-including dozens of lawsuits filed by environmentalists and a string of changes in ownership—-prevented much progress from being made.

Momentum finally started to build about two years ago, after Playa Vista gained control over most of the project and worked out a deal with Maguire Partners that calls for Maguire to handle development of most of the project’s commercial component. “It took a long time for the ball to get rolling,” Denniston tells GlobeSt.com. “But now, we’re making progress every single day.”

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