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CULVER CITY, CA-Cuningham Group Architecture plans to develop a 63,000-square-foot LEED-certified office project, occupy 10,000 square feet of the space as its new Southern California headquarters and sell the remainder as office condominiums. The architectural firm will develop the $24 million project, called Hayden, in partnership with Culver City-based REthink Development.

CGA and REthink recently received approvals from Culver City for the project, which will be on land formerly occupied by Selznick Studios, home of the Tara Plantation from the movie “Gone With the Wind,” as well as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s Desilu Studios. The site is near Jefferson and National boulevards in the Hayden Tract, an industrial district that has evolved over the past 10 years into an area of creative uses such as movie production, interior design, graphic design, advertising, architecture and internet firms.

The Hayden project will feature four stories of commercial office space and two levels of underground parking. Construction is expected to start in 2011, with occupancy projected for late 2012.

The developers will seek at least Gold and possibly Platinum LEED certification for the project. They say that it will be the first of its kind, in both the Hayden Tract and the Los Angeles office market, to attain such a LEED rating.

Until now, LEED office buildings have rarely been developed in for-sale form with multiple owner-users, according to CGA principal Jonathan V. Watts. He says that the approach can provide a positive ROI for investors.

“The principals of the firm are investing their own money significantly in this project,” Watts says. He says the investment by CGA is “a sign that design industry leaders can commit to high-performance design not only as a design or moral exercise, but also as an investment strategy.”

There are previous examples of the architect-as-developer in other cities, Watts says, but in Los Angeles it remains unusual for an architectural firm to tackle property acquisition, approvals, financing, liability protection and other development issues. REthink Development, like CGA, has a track record in green design and sustainable development.

The CGA-REthink team’s timing may be right for the eventual commercial real estate rebound, Watts says. “We believe we are ahead of the curve in anticipating a demand for green for-sale office space as the economy improves,” he says.

Hayden’s 34,000-square-foot site is zoned for industrial use and bounded on two sides by single-family homes. The challenge from the outset was to design a project which, as a commercial development, makes the most of its allowed area and height while, as a responsible neighbor, respects the community around it, the developers say. The building design emerged after months of discussion among the REthink Development, CGA design team and the community, at public meetings and through collaboration with Culver City’s planning officials and the city council.

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