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In Los Angeles, Downtown is a Boomtown

By Russell Fortmeyer

Grand Avenue Project Model. Image courtesy Gehry Partners (above & below)

Model of LA Live! Courtesy RTKL

Metropolitan Lofts. Courtesy Johnson Fain

Metro 417. Courtesy Thomas P. Cox Architects

California Endowment. Courtesy Rios Clementi Hale Studios

Nowhere in Los Angeles is more construction under way than in and around its long-neglected downtown. A study conducted in February 2006 by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation estimates that there has been $12.2 billion worth of built and planned construction here since 1999. Roughly $8.7 billion of that is for private projects, including more than 26,500 residential units, with $3.5 billion for cultural and civic works.

Approaching downtown from the freeway, the most visible construction site is AEG’s L.A. Live! retail, residential, hotel, and entertainment development, next to the Staples Center. The project, master-planned by RTKL, includes nearly 3.8 million square feet of space, including a high-rise tower for ESPN. The 40,000-square-foot Nokia Plaza anchors the development.

Another huge downtown project is the $1.8 billion Grand Avenue plan, across from Frank Gehry, FAIA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. Developed by The Related Companies of California, it is set to include up to 3.2 million square feet of residential, hotel, retail, and park development along the street, which is also lined by commercial high-rises, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. AC Martin Partners is developing the master plan, and Gehry is designing much of the project, including two residential towers, which were unveiled on April 24. The scheme is still in preliminary stages, but so far the towers appear to be rectilinear buildings based on L-shaped floor shapes. Smaller buildings in the development seem to exhibit Gehry’s flair for deconstructing the normal building envelope.

Some have questioned Gehry’s ability to undertake such a large, urban-scaled project, but Eli Broad, chair of the Grand Avenue Committee, says that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the county’s Board of Supervisors have been positive. “I think it’s very complementary to Disney Hall,” Broad says. Gehry’s model will now go on public view, though the public’s role in the process is unclear. Rios Clementi Hale Studios, which in 2003 completed improvements to Grand Avenue, is designing a $50 million park just to the north.

Condos and lofts are everywhere. Blocks from the Staples Center is Johnson Fain Partners’ recently completed Metropolitan Lofts, a 274-unit, eight-story, Modernist-style residential building with at least five new projects nearby. Historic properties are being snatched up thanks to the 1999 Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, which relaxed the city’s regulations for restoring older buildings. Thomas P. Cox Architects—working on several Downtown projects—converted Shultze and Weaver’s Renaissance-inspired Subway Terminal Building, constructed in 1925, into 277 luxury apartments, called Metro 417.

North of Union Station, Rios Clementi Hale just opened a new, 118,000-square-foot building for the California Endowment’s Center for Healthy Communities. This organization provides money for groups serving underprivileged neighborhoods, which underscores downtown’s homeless problem. Unfortunately, little of the new development here addresses that issue. 

May 2006

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