$100 million Lulu’s Place could bring new open space, recreational facilities to Westchester/Playa

Sep 2, 2022

After the collapse of talks for a large  mixed-use commercial development on vacant land north of Los Angeles International Airport, the airport’s governing body is moving forward with the open space and recreation portions of the project, but holding off on commercial development for now.

Los Angeles World Airports, or LAWA, is negotiating a lease with the New Jersey-based Kimmelman Family Foundation to build Lulu’s Place, a planned 35-acre, $100 million complex of education, sports and wellness facilities. Some of the project’s partners include the foundations of golfer Tiger Woods and the U.S. Tennis Association, or USTA. Most of the project will be on about 30 acres of land that LAWA—which oversees LAX and Van Nuys airports—owns between the north airfield of LAX and Westchester and Playa del Rey. Among other things, plans call for tennis courts, pickle ball courts, athletic playing fields, a dog park and walking trails.

“It really would bring a lot of amazing, state-of-the-art facilities to that area,” said LAWA chief sustainability and revenue management officer Samantha Bricker.

A conceptual rendering of a potential layout for the Lulu’s Place project, which could feature a community garden, dog park, playground equipment and youth sports fields to the west of Falmouth Ave. and more than a dozen tennis courts and learning center to the east of the street. Courtesy Lulu’s Place.

The Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa (NCWP), an advisory group that serves as a liaison between the Los Angeles City Council and area residents and businesses, hasn’t taken an official position on the project because it’s still waiting for final details. At first glance, though, most seem “super excited,” said president Paula Gerez.

“We’re looking forward to community outreach and input into the open space part of the project,” she said. “It’s terrific that an organization is looking to put in the resources for this without any obvious revenue generation. It’s just for community benefit.”

The complex is named for Carol “Lulu” Kimmelman, a former teacher at the Raymond Avenue School in South Los Angeles who played tennis for the University of Southern California and served on the USTA Foundation board before dying of cancer in 2017.

Kimmelman was passionate about the children she worked with when she taught elementary school, said project spokeswoman Malina Brown.

“She saw the great potential of the children, but knew that they didn’t have the same resources as children with more economic means,” Brown added.

After Kimmelman died, her family thought filling that need would be an appropriate way to honor her memory.

“There was some discussion of should it be education or should it be sports, and lo and behold, it became both,” Brown said.

So far, approximately $80 million has been raised for the project, according to Brown.

The educational component would be a learning center to be built on a portion of the campus of St. Bernard Catholic High School adjacent to the LAWA property. The plan is for the center to offer tutoring and enrichment in science, technology, engineering, art and math. The vision is for the center to be open to all schools and students during the school day and after school.

The Kimmelman Family Foundation is collaborating with the Los Angeles Unified School District about how best to serve the larger community.   

The Lulu’s Place location is exciting not just because of its advantageous proximity to LAX and freeways, Brown said, but also because it’s surrounded by 16 public, private and charter schools, as well as Loyola Marymount University and Otis College of Art and Design. Plus, many families in surrounding communities send their children to Westchester for after school programs.

Purchased with Federal Aviation Administration grant money, LAWA acquired the parcel, dubbed the LAX Northside Plan Area, in the 1970s and ’80s to provide a buffer between LAX and neighboring communities. It is largely vacant other than a Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation storm water diversion and reclamation facility on the western portion of the property. The Argo Drain Sub Basin will remain, much of it underground to accommodate above ground development, according to LAWA.

A 2016 update to the LAX Northside Plan significantly reduced the 4.5 million square feet of permitted development under the old plan and envisioned “175,000 square feet of community and civic uses, and nearly 50 acres of new recreation and open space.”

LAWA issued a request for proposals to develop approximately 88 acres in the LAX Northside area last year and received two bids to build out the area. It selected Lincoln Property Company for the commercial part, and Lincoln brought in the Kimmelman Family Foundation to develop the recreational components. Ultimately, LAWA and Lincoln were unable to reach a deal, and LAWA intends to seek another round of bids when economic conditions for commercial development are more favorable. In the meantime, the Kimmelman Family Foundation opted to go ahead with Lulu’s Place on its own.

As airport and Lulu’s Place representatives gave their first presentation to the community at the June NCWP meeting, there were reservations among some that the proposed uses would create traffic, parking and security issues. Online, some local residents questioned why the entire parcel couldn’t stay undeveloped.

That is unlikely, said LAWA’s Bricker. Plans to develop the property have been in place for decades, including a middle area called the bowtie (because it’s shaped like one on a map) that the agency is eyeing for office, research and educational uses. There is also a section reserved for airport uses such as the airport police facility, which was unveiled in December 2021. But planning was drawn up with sensitivity to community needs in mind, Bricker said. That’s why a portion of the land was set aside specifically for open space and recreation, and ideas for that part were conceived after numerous design charettes with community leaders who said they favored recreational uses, she said.

Ongoing meetings for lease negotiations with the Kimmelman Family Foundation are underway to hammer out details such as maintenance, security and parking. Tentative plans call for using some of the St. Bernard land for an as yet undetermined number of surface level parking spaces. The foundation and LAWA also need to work with the city to figure out access issues that could involve vacating parts of W. 92nd Street or Cum Laude Avenue.

A conceptual rendering of what the site could look like facing north towards St. Bernard High School. Courtesy Lulu’s Place.

Any proposal would have to be in compliance with Environmental Impact Report guidelines for the area, and the city would need to sign off, Bricker said. Protections for the Argo Drain Sub Basin will have to be incorporated, as well.

Theoretically, Lulu’s Place could break ground in the next 18 months if all of that goes smoothly, but “there are a lot of processes that have to go forward in order for this to happen,” Bricker said.

LAWA decided to move ahead with the Kimmelman Family Foundation project without going out for bids, after clearing it with the city attorney.

“The type of use that could be done on this portion of the land is very limited,” Bricker said. “There’s not really a profit to be made here…It’s too small for things like a golf course or other things that would typically generate revenue. Really this is just a community benefit, and there are not a lot of folks out there willing to invest $100 million in a project and maintain it at no cost to LAWA.”

Reps from Lulu’s Place and LAWA have met with community groups and service clubs, and say they want to keep communication open. Anyone with questions or feedback can email laxnorthsideopenspace@lawa.org to comment or set up a meeting, Brown said.

Representatives from LAWA and Lulu’s Place will have a community booth at the Westchester Arts & Music Block Party on September 24 as part of their outreach efforts.

Learn more at lulusplace.org.

Story by Courtenay Edelhart.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter!