Sportsmen’s Lodge Hotel redevelopment catches environmental endorsement

Midwood wants to knock down hotel, put apartments at former urban fishing hole

Midwood CEO John Usdan  and a rendering of  Sportsmen’s Lodge hotel (Midwood, Kilograph)
Midwood CEO John Usdan  and a rendering of  Sportsmen’s Lodge hotel (Midwood, Kilograph)

The ongoing redevelopment of the former Sportsmen’s Lodge — one of the San Fernando Valley’s most famous locations — has taken a big step forward with a key city environmental endorsement.

Midwood Investment & Development, a New York-based firm, is in the process of redeveloping the Sportsmen’s Lodge Hotel, one component of the Valley landmark, into a mixed-use complex with more than 500 apartments. In an assessment published in late July, the City of L.A. Planning Department determined that the development, called Residences at Sportsmen’s Lodge, would not have a major negative environmental impact. It also determined that it qualifies as a “transit priority project,” a designation that helps streamline state CEQA approvals.

A representative for Midwood did not respond to an interview request. The L.A. city planner who led the assessment declined to comment, citing city policy. A Planning Department spokesperson did not respond to an interview request.

John Usdan, Midwood’s CEO, has previously framed the switch from hospitality to housing as a better long term economic bet for the location, in part because the hotel drew much of its customer base from nearby Universal Studios.

“When you are dependent on a single driver of business,” Usdan previously told the L.A. Times, “it is a high-risk enterprise.”

The Planning Department assessment does not amount to a full green light for the development — the L.A. City Council must still sign off, after a 30-day public comment period on the findings — but it does represent a major hurdle in the redevelopment of a property that still carries an iconic San Fernando Valley name.

The original Sportsmen’s Lodge opened in the 1940s on the site of an existing trout farm, and over decades emerged as a local destination that was known both as a hangout for the Hollywood crowd, thanks to its Studio City location, and as a family-friendly, rustic-style events space, restaurant and hotel – complete with trout fishing.

But for the better of two decades the property has been undergoing various transformations that have rendered it all but unrecognizable from the 20th-century landmark. The overhauls trace back to 2007, when the developer Richard Weintraub — a Valley native — bought what was by then a somewhat faded lodge, for $51 million and promised to redevelop it while honoring the property’s history. The plans kicked off a dispute with the longtime operator, who was pushed out, and also generated something of a nostalgia-driven backlash.

“The only history that’s going away,” Steve Afriat, who served as Weintraub’s lobbyist at the time, told the L.A. Times at one point, “is the run-down operation that’s been there for the last 10 years. My client wants to bring the Sportsmen’s Lodge to its heyday.”

Weintraub did spruce up and initially reopen the banquet hall, which held a grand opening a year later with white marble fixtures and a splashy new entrance. He also initiated plans to renovate the 1960s-era hotel in a partnership with Midwood, which owned that component. The plans were held up by a dispute between the two developers, however, and the New York firm ended up acquiring the entire property in 2017.

Midwood began its own redevelopment of the events space in 2019, transforming the onetime rustic lodge into a $100 million, 95,000-square-foot upscale open-air shopping center called The Shops at Sportsmen’s Lodge. That complex opened in December, and in April the firm announced it was fully leased, with tenants that include an Equinox fitness club and the upmarket grocery chain Erewhon.

“Sportsmen’s Lodge has always been a landmark of the San Fernando Valley,” Jeff Lotman, the CEO of the clothing store Fred Segal, one of the tenants, said in a release at the time. “We are excited to be part of its rebirth.” In his own statement Midwood CEO John Usdan spoke of respecting “the historic provenance of the site while programming it in an insightful way.”

Midwood’s plan to knock down the hotel and build housing came to light last summer.

The plans for the mixed-use project, which were laid out more completely in the recent environmental assessment, include three buildings of various heights — the tallest would have a maximum height of 94 feet, or seven stories — that would house a total of 520 units, including 78 designated for very low income tenants. The project would be 650,000 square feet, including 18,000 square feet for a restaurant and 28,000 square feet for retail. The smallest building, at two stories, would be devoted entirely to commercial use. The project would feature a midcentury modern-inspired design and also “incorporate the Los Angeles River as a focal point” with various landscaping and access plans.

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