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03.07.2014
Back from the Dead
Several projects return in Downtown Los Angeles.
Gehry Partners' Grand Avenue Project.
Courtesy Related Companies

As Downtown Los Angeles’ comeback continues at a rapid pace you can add another category to the area’s new residences, offices, hotels, shops, and restaurants: projects back from the dead. In recent months a flurry of all types of development once considered lost in the last economic downturn have come back online, albeit often with very different teams and looks.

“We felt very strongly that the demand would come right back once the recession started to ease,” said Carol Schatz, president and CEO at the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID). Unlike the previous recession, she added, “everyone knew something was going on downtown. It didn’t erode the confidence people had in downtown as a new market.”

 
 

The timing couldn’t be better. According to DCBID’s 2013 Development Market Report, Downtown LA is now seeing construction of 5,000 residential units and 1,474 hotel units, while over 70 new retail businesses opened in 2013 and millions of square feet of office space were leased. Another important factor in the projects’ return: the city’s multiple approvals ordinance, which, among other things, helped extend the length of development entitlements to keep them alive.

The most high profile return is Related Company’s and Frank Gehry’s Grand Avenue Project in Bunker Hill, whose new scheme—now centered around a staggered, u-shaped plaza—was approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on January 14 and by the Grand Avenue Authority on January 15. That $750 million, mixed-use project was left for dead after close to a dozen extensions, but received a shot in the arm when potential partners—particularly Hotel operator SLS—expressed interest, according to Related’s Bill Witte. The scale of the project is significantly reduced from the original one. “It’s a better and more appropriate plan this time around,” said Witte.

Shimoda Design's 695 Santa Fe development.
Courtesy Shimoda Design
 

In the super-hot Arts District AMP Lofts by Koning Eizenberg (2008) is now 605 Santa Fe, with architecture by Shimoda Design. The project—whose look will be inspired by the area’s industrial setting, with a concrete podium and corrugated metal clad units—includes 240 apartment units and 20,000 square feet of restaurant and creative office space designed around 25,000 square feet of park space. “We’re very bullish on Los Angeles,” explained Ryan Granito, Senior Project Manager for the developer, Bolour Associates. The site’s entitlements were already in place, and only need to be adjusted.

On the other side of town another raised ghost is Metropolis, a mega-scale mixed-use project in South Park that has seen more iterations than any other in the area, including plans by Michael Graves in the 1990s, and another by developer IDS in 2011. The $1 billion hotel, residential, office project is being led by Shanghai-based Greenland Group and by Gensler. The project will start with a 19-story hotel and a 38-story apartment building. Applications were filed in December.

 
 

Park Fifth, a 76-story condo tower designed by KPF in 2008 (as the largest tower west of the Mississippi) on the corner of 5th and Olive, next to Pershing Square, is now being developed by MacFarlane Partners at a much more manageable size. The new project, about half the scale of Park Fifth, will include 600,000 square feet of retail and residential space.

Finally comes the redevelopment of the Herald Examiner development on Broadway, centering around Julia Morgan’s grand-but-dilapidated former headquarters for the Herald Examiner newspaper. Morphosis had designed two residential towers that were killed by the last downturn. Now developer Forest City plans to develop two mixed-use buildings on lots adjacent to the Morgan Building. The Hearst Corporation also intends to renovate the Morgan building, with plans for ground floor retail and creative office space above. No architects have been chosen for the project yet.

As Downtown becomes more attractive, more projects will rise from the dead, adding to a cityscape that is already unrecognizable from just a decade ago. “We have lots of projects being discussed but I’ve learned from experience that you don’t count them until they’re under construction,” said Schatz.

Sam Lubell