County Requests Bids for Complex : Leased-Land Office Development Would Alter Focus of Civic Center

October 12, 1986|RAY HEBERT | Times Urban Affairs Writer

For many years the site housed the old Los Angeles State Building.

Severely damaged in the 1971 earthquake, the state structure was demolished and its foundations--transformed into a park-like plaza--served as a gathering place for Civic Center lunchers, a bus-ticketing center for the 1984 Olympic Games, a temporary home for the poor and as a protest site for religious groups.

Through it all, the property--strategically located in the core of Downtown Los Angeles' Civic Center--gained recognition as one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the nation.

Test of Marketability

Now Los Angeles County, the state and city are ready to test its marketability.

A call for proposals is going out for private developers to put up a 20-story or so commercial office building, subterranean parking and other support facilities on the property between Spring Street and Broadway, on the north side of 1st Street.

The request, containing information about the type of project county officials envision for the site, is being mailed to 200 potential developers. It's also being advertised nationally to get "maximum exposure," as a county spokesman put it, for the multimillion-dollar project.

Spring Selection Planned

Sometime next spring, probably in May, a developer producing what is judged the best plan will be selected to carry out the project. The deal is expected to be worth $1 billion to the county, state and city over the lifetime of a 66-year ground lease.

Ranking as one of the Civic Center's most ambitious undertakings, the $130-million complex will include, in addition to the office building, completion of the landscaped Civic Center Mall between Broadway and Spring Street, three levels of underground parking for 1,600 cars and space for a daytime child-care center.

Estimates are that the office structure alone, placed diagonally at the corner of 1st and Spring Streets, will cost $80 million. The parking facility will be built under the mall and office building and is estimated at $30 million. The cost to complete the mall is figured at $20 million.

Because of its scope, the project, of course, is expected to have a significant impact on the Civic Center. Its development, for example, will break up an alignment of public buildings clustered within the Civic Center's strict boundaries and heretofore devoted solely to governmental and cultural functions.

Area's Focus Changes

By most counts, the Civic Center is recognized as the area extending nine blocks from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power building east to Parker Center, the police headquarters. Historically, city planners have viewed the Civic Center as a commercial-free complex of public buildings.

But the rising cost of land, coupled with uncertainty about what to do with the old state building property, changed all that.

The office tower and mall site occupies three-quarters of the block bounded by Broadway and 1st, Spring and Temple streets and is considered a "hot property" because of its key downtown location, according to William Wise, an analyst in the county's chief administrative office. The county is the lead agency in the joint state-county-city venture.

In a report to the county Board of Supervisors, Chief Administrative Officer James C. Hankla described the commercial office venture as "particularly unique (because) it involves three public agencies which will be 66-year partners in one of the most significant projects nationally in a downtown/civic center area."

Site Is Urban Rarity

"First and Broadway represents a rarity in a major metropolitan area in that it is both vacant and strategically located," he said. "Our market studies show a strong potential demand, thereby creating a major long-term revenue source."

Indeed, county planners foresee a "window of opportunity" developing in 1988-1989 for new downtown office space coming on the market at that time.

Hankla also told the board, whose approval--as well as the state's and city's--was necessary to get the project under way, that the Civic Center venture is another step in the county's speeded-up asset-development program to realize new long-term revenue sources. A new state law adopted three years ago makes such long-term ground leases possible. The county has similar ventures either in negotiation or under construction at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, the Pitchess Honor Ranch and the old Long Beach General Hospital.

Under the Civic Center plan, William J. Lewis, the program's lease administrator, explained that the county--and in this case the state and city--will be partners with a private developer by making their own real estate available for development.

'Buildings That Will Compete'

He said one of the county program's goals is to get "buildings that will compete." For example, he said, the Civic Center structure is intended as a "signature" building which will create its own identity, thus becoming a focal point at 1st and Spring streets.

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