Week of September 29, 2003
Snapshot from the Field
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to Amplify LA's Downtown Heartbeat, Add 16,000+ Jobs
by JACK LYNE, Site Selection Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing
LOS ANGELES Los Angeles, the second-largest U.S. city, has a large, persistent problem with its downtown core that's not unlike Gertrude Stein's famous comment about another California city, Oakland: "There is no there there," Stein memorably cracked.
Soon, though, there may be more there there in LA's urban center. The city's downtown heart may develop a far stronger beat, judging from the recent unveiling of the US$1.2-billion Grand Avenue Project. The project design, which comes after three years of planning, plots an area with a plethora of people-drawing features, including offices, housing, an urban park, cultural and educational facilities, retail operations, and a new hotel. The revitalization could generate as many as 16,400 permanent jobs, project backers say.
"Today we are on the verge of creating the true heart of our city," Grand Avenue Committee Co-chair and billionaire Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad said in announcing the project at the city's Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue.
"Paris has its Champs-Elysees. New York has Rockefeller Center, Times Square and Central Park," added Broad, who originated the idea of revitalizing Grand Avenue along with Thomas Properties Group CEO and fellow philanthropist and Co-chair Jim Thomas. "Now Los Angeles will have at its center a grand boulevard and urban park, providing millions of people each year the opportunity to walk, shop and play while enjoying downtown at its best."
Area Once Housed City's EliteGrand Avenue is part of Los Angeles' Bunker Hill, in the late 19th century a tony residential neighborhood of choice for the city's business and political leaders. The area today, though, is a skyscraper-dominated spot known largely for housing Los Angeles' Financial District.
Grand Avenue, however, is still strongly positioned to tap a large mass of Los Angelenos interested in living, walking, shopping and playing downtown, says the Grand Avenue Committee, a group of civic leaders formed in 2000. Some 5.8 million people live within 15 miles (24 kilometers) of the Grand Avenue Project, the committee estimates. Of that number, 41,000 live in the immediate neighborhood, and another 170,000 workers come to the area each weekday.
What Grand Avenue Project planners are aiming for is an area where many of that throng will not only work, but also live and play.
"While Los Angeles stands as a world-class city, the downtown area is mostly looked upon as a place of business and commerce, and rarely as a place where people of all income levels can live," said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, a member of the Los Angeles Grand Avenue Authority, the recently created joint city-county body that has overall project responsibility. "The Grand Avenue Project provides the opportunity to change that with the addition of new housing options designed to accommodate people of various means in an inviting and enjoyable environment. With more people living, working and enjoying the area, we have unlimited potential in downtown improvement."
Planners Look to Private Sector for $900 MillionThe project's key public component is a 16-acre (6.4-hectare) park stretching between the development's two boundaries: City Hall and the Department of Water and Power building. Project planners see the park as a central location for civic events, cultural gatherings and outdoor performances.
"The uniqueness of a major park in the heart of downtown Los Angeles is testimony to our belief that this area is becoming an all-encompassing place where businesses and families can enjoy the commodities of city life with the luxuries of green and recreation space," Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina said at the Museum of Contemporary Art Presentation.
Parts of the park are already built, including the Music Center Plaza, which will be upgraded. The revitalization as a whole will require $300 million in public infrastructure improvements, project planners estimate.
The private sector, though, is the key player in transforming Grand Avenue. Planners expect real estate developers to provide $900 million of project funding.
Much of that private-sector participation will be in the four project areas designated for land development. Located between the Los Angeles Civic Center and the Financial District, those areas have the potential for more than 3 million sq. ft. (270,000 sq. m.) of new development. That developmental swath will contain residential and office space and a 400-room hotel, plus retail and entertainment attractions including restaurants, cinemas, bookstores, jazz clubs and theaters.
The project's "streetscape environment" will be an important feature in boosting drawing power. The pedestrian-friendly design calls for wide, tree-shaded sidewalks, with lights, benches and kiosks helping define Grand Avenue's revamped identity.
The project's payoff could be considerable. The revitalized area will generate more than $85 million annually in local, county and state taxes, according to a Grand Avenue Committee economic impact study. And the redevelopment will generate nearly $809 million in annual revenue, estimated Mayor James Hahn, who called the project "a vital step towards revitalizing downtown Los Angeles into a thriving, competitive business environment for generations to come."
Critic: Neighborhoods Where Locals 'ActuallyThe project is getting a boost from some other recently completed downtown developments. Among them are the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Broad Avenue home, which Broad called the project's "crown jewel."
Spend Time, Money Will Get the Booby Prize'
But some area denizens are not so sanguine about the Grand Avenue Project, particularly residents in the widely scattered suburbs. Some particularly pointed criticism has come from The LA Daily News, a newspaper based in Woodland Hills, a suburb 25 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of downtown.
"As always, the neighborhoods where Angelenos actually spend their time and money will get the booby prize: the tax bill to subsidize services while all the economic benefits stay downtown," the newspaper editorialized in response to the project's announcement. "This is just the latest attempt by Los Angeles' leaders to 'Manhattan-ize' a downtown that has continued to resist attempts to make it a fun destination, no matter how much public money is thrown its way. Clearly, city leaders have some self-esteem issues with L.A.'s glamorous, older big sister."
Broad, though, is doggedly bullish about the project's prospects.
"Like great cities around the world," he said, "rather than rushing home, now those who work downtown will have an exciting environment in which to spend quality time before and after work."
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