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Developer OKd for Civic Center : Private Office Tower to Occupy Site of Former State Building

September 06, 1987|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Raffi Cohen hasn't even finished his first high-rise project, but a partnership led by his firm just triumphed over four other finalists to develop a 21-story office building on publicly owned land in the Los Angeles Civic Center.

The County Board of Supervisors has approved RCI (Raffi Cohen Industries) and WCC (Westinghouse Credit Corp.) as the development team of the $125-million project, known as Civic Center Plaza. It will be built on the 4.6-acre site of the earthquake-damaged, now-demolished Los Angeles State Building, on the north side of 1st Street, across Spring Street from City Hall.

Why RCI?

"Because ours was a good solution," Cohen said, "and I put all my efforts into making it happen."

William Wise, chief analyst with the county chief administrative officer's office, said he thought the county, the lead agency in the project, selected RCI, "because RCI offered the deal with the best financial return, one that will give us--all three agencies--a total of $2.5 billion of income over 66 years."

The county will get 47%, with the state getting 46% and the city, 7%. The agencies each have an ownership interest in the site.

In April, when the field of potential developers was narrowed from eight to five, the three agencies only expected an estimated $1-billion return. The next closest bid was $2.4 billion, followed by $1.2 billion, Wise said.

Another reason he gave for the county selecting RCI was its partner, WCC. "WCC had a lot to do with RCI getting the final word because of WCC's tremendous financial backing," he said.

However, WCC is a subsidiary of Westinghouse Electric Corp., which filed forms with the city indicating that the company has investments in South Africa, and the city has an anti-apartheid policy limiting city purchases from firms doing business in that country.

Could this be a problem for RCI? "Could be," Wise conceded. "The city has the policy on South Africa, but at this time, I don't think it will be a problem, and we're addressing it if it is."

During the next 90 days, when RCI and the governmental negotiating team sit down to discuss leasing terms, WCC may remain as RCI's partner, he said, "or he (Cohen) could find another that's better for him."

One issue that didn't apparently enter into RCI's selection was design.

"It wasn't a contest of designs," Wise said, "though we want the project to be compatible with the buildings that are there at this time. Now we'll ask that the exterior be coated with a limestone finish so it will blend in."

Described as Futuristic

RCI's design, by Helmut Jahn of Murphy-Jahn of Chicago, is geometric. Cohen describes it as futuristic. "I wanted to see something like you would see in Los Angeles in the year 2000," he said.

Cohen is excited about the design, and he is excited about Los Angeles. "I don't want to go anywhere else (to develop)," he said. "I'm going to concentrate on a three-mile radius of downtown."

Cohen only recently started focusing on the area, having spent most of his time, since getting into development in 1979, in the San Fernando Valley and other parts of Los Angeles.

He came from Israel in 1976 to attend college but could only afford night classes at California State University, Northridge. "I learned to struggle with no money," he remembered.

What happened between Northridge and downtown L. A.? Cohen worked hard, he says, building and selling, mostly apartments.

Diligent Worker

"My first year, my filing cabinet was in my car."

Even now, with a staff of 16 and a 14th-floor corner office in the first of 16-story twin towers he is developing at 201 N. Figueroa St., he typically works from 6 a.m. until midnight.

He hasn't had time to get married, has little time for his hobby, flying, and even works when he travels almost every four months to visit his parents and two older brothers, who are airline pilots, in Israel. Cohen also owns a travel agency.

"I am always thinking of work," he said. "People say, 'Have a drink and forget it sometimes,' but I don't drink, and I love my work."

He loves it so much that he surrounds himself with it at home as well as at his office, where he keeps a miniaturized replica of downtown Los Angeles as well as models of Civic Center Plaza.

Likes Skyscrapers

He has a home in Palm Springs because the desert reminds him of Israel, but he also has a home in Beverly Hills that has a city view. "I bought it because I can see high-rises all over," he said.

He built a small shopping center once but says, "Now my enthusiasm and all my push is after the skyscrapers."

Like the second Figueroa Plaza tower, which he expects to start building "very soon," and Civic Center Plaza, which is scheduled to be under way next July, with occupancy in July, 1990.

In addition to its offices, Civic Center Plaza will have 60,000 square feet of retail space.

Large and Small Offices

When Cohen finishes the building, there will be 600,000 square feet of space under roof.

There will be offices--for small legal, accounting, title insurance and other firms--and users needing 100,000 square feet of space also may be accommodated, Wise said.

There will be two restaurants with outdoor seating and shops and food services in four kiosks.

There will be a daytime child-care center, 6,000 square feet for 100 children--"a first for the area," Wise remarked.

And there will be a 1,600-car underground parking facility.

When the Civic Center project is completed, what next?

Cohen scanned his downtown replica. "I'm still wondering where we're going in this exciting town. You can still pick a site downtown and build.

"Yes, there's a lot of potential in downtown Los Angeles."

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