Architects Johnson Fain, landscape architects SWA Group, developers High Street Residential, Principal Real Estate Investors, Benchmark Contractors, and the non-profit Cesar Chavez Foundation (CCF) have broken ground on a $140-million mixed-use, mixed-income development in Los Angeles’s historic center.

The long-in-the-making multifamily complex, “La Plaza de Cultura,” will bring 355 units to an area that is currently made up of a patchy network of parking lots, freeway off-ramps, and homeless encampments, and surrounds the more pedestrian-friendly areas directly adjacent to Union Station and Olvera Street. The project aims to feed into the tourist zone by stitching together several major streets with a large, stepped paseo filled with 46,000 square feet of retail space overlooked by housing.

Johnson Fain’s proposed 717,000-square-foot complex will include 71 affordable units set aside for residents making up to 80 percent of the Area Median Income. The complex is designed as a terraced structure spanning between Hill, Broadway, and Spring Streets, encompassing a grade change of roughly 40 feet between Hill Street and Broadway alone. Renderings for the development depict a structure that gradually steps up to Hill Street, with the stepped paseo connecting the two thoroughfares. The various volumes of the complex—apartment blocks, terraces, and balconies—are clad in a range of materials and feature punched openings.



SWA’s landscape design calls for a network of generous public open spaces connecting the paseo to the circular, historic plaza at Olvera Street. By designing these interstitial open spaces as landscaped walkways punctuated with wayfinding and informational signage, an attempt is being made to guide pedestrians from Union Station, the central node in L.A.’s mass transit system, with Olvera Street and the new complex itself. In doing so, the complex will begin to bridge the urban gaps between Union Station and the adjacent Chinatown neighborhood, an active commercial, arts, and entertainment district nearby.

The project is being co-developed by CCF, a Latino-focused nonprofit that provides affordable housing services to area residents. Under a special development deal, the organization will lease the site from the City of Los Angeles for one dollar per year while subletting the property to the developers for $250,000 per year during construction and for almost twice that after the development is completed. The arrangement will provide operational funding for the nonprofit while also housing the group’s headquarters. Aside from providing a $30,000 contribution to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the project also features a favorable deal for local labor, requiring 30 percent of the workers to be hired from the area, with ten percent of those workers taken from so-called “disadvantaged groups.”

La Plaza de Cultura is anticipated to finish construction in mid-2018.

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