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Los Angeles's Downtown: Developing Again?

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Downtown Los Angeles has a new skyscraper or two planned--but is this sort of development the best thing right now, for either downtown or the developers?

Details from the Los Angeles Times' "L.A. Now" blog:

Over the last week, two developers have proposed huge projects along the Figueroa corridor near Staples Center in South Park. Both are proposed by Korean developers and underscore how the South Park area has emerged as a hot spot for development.... Other parts of downtown have not fared as well. The Grand Avenue project on Bunker Hill has faced numerous delays, though officials vow it will be built. Another huge developer next to Pershing Square has also faced delays, also because of financing issues (it remains unclear whether the two new proposed developments will face similar challenges)..... The condominium and retail complex is being proposed for a site between Figueroa and Flower streets near the Convention Center by CA Human Technologies, a South Korean joint venture, project spokeswoman Veronica Becerra said. Details of the project, which Becerra said could break ground in less than a year, emerged days after The Times reported the nearby Wilshire Grand hotel would be replaced with a $1-billion hotel, office and retail project that also has South Korean investors.

But will the office tower part of the Wilshire Grand replacement project really work in this economy, the Los Angeles Downtown News wonders?

[T]he Downtown office market's historically high vacancy rates, even in boom times, could make it more difficult for the project to attract investors. Still, [Jim] Thomas, who with his Thomas Properties Group has developed more than 5 million square feet of trophy office space in Downtown including the U.S. Bank Tower, the Wells Fargo Center and the Gas Company Tower, is confident that he can pre-lease at least 50% of the tower in the next 18 months. ....some experts are skeptical of the market's readiness....There is already a lot of available high-end, or Class A, office space in Downtown....Downtown's current office market vacancy rate is 15% overall, according to a recent Colliers' report, up slightly from 14.8% in the fourth quarter of 2008. The vacancy rate among the area's Class A properties is 13.5%, up from 13.1% in the fourth quarter of 2007. ["Office Tower is Wild Card in $1 Billion Plan," Los Angeles Downtown News]

Downtown has been hitting a slump, according to this February story from L.A. Magazine that concludes with a message that the new downtown skyscraper developers might end up wishing they'd taken to heart:

Urban makeovers take time and are fueled by incrementalism, not girth....They require strong economies, and we're years away from seeing one of those again. At the risk of offending the folks who want so badly to see a downtown renaissance, I can't help stating the obvious: Lower those expectations.

And the L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne wonders if downtown really needs new high-rises, positing that smaller, more varied uses of existing space might make a more attractive and usable downtown. But he notes these projects are probably launching now because "Developers who feel prepared to move forward on the approval front, even if their financing remains iffy, can take advantage of a climate in which the city is desperate to support any signs of new real-estate activity downtown."

And who with the city helps decide and approve these development decisions? Meet your L.A. City Planning Commission.

The image associated with this post was taken by Flickr user Just a Slice. It was used under user Creative Commons license.

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