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Once a sleepy giant, Los Angeles' core awakens

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As Los Angeles prepares for the 2028 Summer Olympics, new apartments, hotel rooms and retail and office spaces are steadily coming online throughout the downtown area.

Los Angeles

LOS Angeles' downtown was little more than a sleepy office district not too long ago, where tens of thousands of suburbanites would clear out by the end of the workday and scores of classic beaux-arts and art deco buildings would sit vacant or underutilised.

"It didn't even have a grocery store until Ralphs opened about 10 years ago," said Andrew Tashjian, a Los Angeles native and commercial real estate broker. "Downtown was dead."

Today, cranes dot the skyline and construction routinely diverts traffic as downtown Los Angeles - a neighbourhood known as DTLA - undergoes the biggest development boom since the 1920s, when the area was then the centre of the entertainment industry.

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As the city prepares for the 2028 Summer Olympics, new apartments, hotel rooms and retail and office spaces are steadily coming online throughout the downtown area.

Existing structures are being recycled, and the city's public transit system is being expanded and improved. But as development grows, city officials are facing criticism over a lack of affordable housing.

The business improvement district was formed in the late 1990s just as a resurgent interest in urban life was taking shape across the country.

Looking to meet a growing demand for housing and commercial expansion, local planners and businesses set out to revive the district and its celebrated past, maintaining that a strong core would benefit all of Los Angeles as well as the entire region.

"There's been a move within cities to enjoy the urban experience," said Mr Tashjian, who is a managing director in the Los Angeles office of Cushman & Wakefield.

"The newer generation are more urban-minded and appreciate that way of living and not having to commute to work."

Downtown construction projects will add more than 7,000 residential units, according to the business improvement district's year-end market report, and more than 35,000 are in the pipeline.

Nearly three million square feet of office space is under construction, the report said, and an additional 3.3 million sq ft has been proposed.

The redevelopment extends to civic and cultural projects, including the Metro Regional Connector, a light-rail extension through the heart of downtown, and the replacement of the arched Sixth Street Viaduct. The Los Angeles Convention Center is getting an overhaul too.

Older buildings are also being repurposed at a rapid clip, enticing many businesses and institutions to plant roots downtown.

The Warner Music Group is relocating to the old Ford Factory, and Arizona State University is leasing 80,000 sq ft in the Herald Examiner Building, built in 1914 and designed by Julia Morgan, the architect of Hearst Castle.

Technology companies like Spotify and online coupon company Honey have opened office space.

Mapping out the city's long-term vision is a set of extensive rezoning plans, which project 125,000 residents, 70,000 housing units and 55,000 jobs downtown by 2040.

"Our goal is to really bring people and density to the downtown area as it was originally envisioned and intended," said Shana Bonstin, deputy director for the community planning bureau at the Los Angeles City Planning Department.

But housing advocacy groups claim that the revitalisation plan does not fully address a shortage of affordable housing.

A report released last spring by the California Housing Partnership and the Southern California Association of Non-profit Housing said that to satisfy the demand of lower-income renters in Los Angeles County, 568,255 new units were needed.

Aware of the rising rents, Ms Bonstin said affordable housing was a priority for the city.

"Many projects have a component of affordable housing," she said, noting that the Weingart Center for the Homeless was putting up two towers that would classify all units as affordable.

Nick Griffin, executive director of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, said he believes the growth projections will easily be surpassed, and that the downtown could become a city within a city, with as many as 200,000 residents in the next 20 years.

Already, he said, there are an estimated 70,000, up from 18,000 about 20 years ago.

"The catalyst for the transformation of downtown LA is residential development," said Bert Dezzutti, executive vice-president for the western region of Brookfield Properties, the district's largest real estate owner.

"Once it establishes itself as a residential destination, it drives the other uses," he said. NYTIMES