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Grand Avenue Redevelopment and L.A.  River Rehab Move Forward

Although they are still far from starting construction, much less completion, two significant Los Angeles redevelopment projects took major steps forward this month: one, a Frank Gehry-designed urban district near his Walt Disney Concert Hall, the other a full makeover for the city’s long-neglected river.

After four years of evaluating redevelopment schemes for Grand Avenue, in the downtown district of Bunker Hill, the Los Angeles City Council and the County Board of Supervisors approved a $2 billion proposal on February 13. The Related Companies, a private developer, will transform a three-block site into a new 16-acre park as well as 3.8 million square feet of retail shops, housing, and a luxury hotel. The project was master planned by Frank Gehry, FAIA. Although local residents and some council members expressed concern about using public funds for the construction of a luxury hotel, the entire project is receiving roughly $95 million: this includes $66 million in municipal tax rebates, $4.6 million from the county, and $24.4 million from the Community Redevelopment Agency.

“Every project is criticizable,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “But I think [the Related Companies] has done its homework and I’m going to support it.” Other board members praised developer The Related Companies for including affordable housing, creating pedestrian accessibility, and commissioning Gehry.

Like the Grand Avenue project, the Los Angeles River redevelopment has also had a long gestation period. After five years of study, the city released its Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan on February 2. This document presents a roadmap for an anticipated $2 billion makeover of the 51-mile-long river, which is now little more than a concrete-encased storm water runoff channel.

The plan’s goals include improving the waterway’s appearance by adding greenery and pedestrian paths; improving water quality and protecting natural habitats; strengthening flood control mechanisms; and creating new recreational opportunities. Before work begins, though, the L.A. Department of Public Works must first identify ways to revitalize publicly owned rights-of-way along the river. An advisory committee is also resolving the project’s long-term maintenance, liability, and security issues.

Work on initial phases of the river’s rehabilitation has already begun, but the entire project could take between 25 and 50 years to complete. The City Council is scheduled to vote on final approvals for the project in April, according to a spokesperson. The Related Companies, for its part, expects construction to begin on the first phase of Grand Avenue this October and finish by 2011.

Sam Lubell