Weintraub seeks permit approval for Malibu Lumber site project

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The Bernie Safire Hairstyle salon, Tops Gallery Malibu, Nail Box Plus and the McLean Gallery will open shop at the old Malibu Lumber site. Photo by Laura Tate / TMT

More tenants for the old Malibu Lumber site to be announced in next few weeks.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Although his deal with the city to rent the Malibu Lumber site portion of the Chili Cook-Off site is not complete, local developer Richard Weintraub’s project proposal for the property on the northwest corner of Cross Creek Road and Pacific Coast Highway is going before the Planning Commission for a coastal development permit on Tuesday.

Weintraub is partnering on the project with fellow Malibu resident Richard Sperber, who heads the renowned landscaping firm, ValleyCrest Companies. The proposal calls for the demolition of the old Malibu Lumber building and two smaller nearby structures. In their place will be constructed a 25,000-square-foot, two-story building and two smaller structures totaling 5,000 square feet in size. The development will include retail shops and two restaurants, plus state-of-the-art landscaping and an aquatic sanctuary or tidal pool.

So far, only a handful of future tenants have been made public for the project, all being businesses that are currently open or have recently closed at other Malibu locations. They are Tops Gallery Malibu, Nail Box Plus, Bernie Safire Hairstyle and the McLean Gallery. Weintraub said he would be able to announce other tenants within the next few weeks.

All the businesses moving to the property are doing so because the rent would be less expensive, or because their current landlords forced them out. Weintraub said in April he would charge local businesses $7 or $8 per square foot. Hairstylist Bernie Safire earlier told The Malibu Times that Michael Koss, owner of the Malibu Country Mart, where his salon is currently located, had raised his rent to $17 a square foot, an amount Safire said he “absolutely would not” be able to afford.

“I’m at the max of paying my rent right now,” said Safire, regarding his rent increase from $3,900 to $8,000 per month.

Weintraub and the city have been in negotiation about his leasing the property since last year. The two parties say most of the work has been finished, but some fine details still need to be worked out. Weintraub was selected for an exclusive negotiation with the city among nine potential operators who had submitted applications. If for some reason the discussions between the two parties fall apart, another applicant could be chosen for negotiations. According to the agreement made last fall that established the negotiation period, the city will accept no less than $925,000 per year for the lease, with the amount being increased by 5 percent every five years. The lease would be for 39 years, with an option to increase it to 54 years.

The Malibu Lumber property has been vacant since Weyerhauser Co. closed shop in 2005. Malibu Bay Co., which sold the Chili Cook-Off site to the city in April 2006, had said just prior to the sale that it was negotiating with an unnamed potential tenant for the property. The sale of the Chili Cook-Off site was even delayed because of a request by Malibu Bay to be able to continue its negotiation with the business. It was never clear why Malibu Bay officials were concerned with who rented the property when the city would soon own it. But the negotiation failed, and the city was forced to find a new tenant on its own.

The city needs to lease the property because it has a significant debt to pay off for the purchase of the Chili Cook-Off site. The Malibu government issued more than $17.4 million worth of certificates of participation, which are similar to bonds, to fund the acquisition. The debt will be paid off through the rent money from the Chili Cook-Off site tenants, including most likely Weintraub and the currently operating Malibu Coast Animal Hospital and Coldwell Banker.