After months of anxiety and delays, the Southern California Institute of Architecture will break ground today on its campus in downtown Los Angeles.
Some renovation work at the school's new home, a nearly quarter-mile-long former railroad freight terminal in the artists' loft district, is already underway and is scheduled to be completed by the end of August--nearly nine months behind schedule. Until then, SCI-Arc and its 500 students and staff will continue to work out of portable classrooms and a giant tent adjacent to the terminal.
SCI-Arc has received significant support from city officials and downtown business leaders who are trying to revive the central city with new educational and cultural institutions and amenities.
"We recognize the value of having SCI-Arc downtown," said Jeff Walden, director of Mayor Richard Riordan's L.A. Business Team. "We're pleased that they are getting ready to start their renovation and remodeling."
Despite substantial political backing, SCI-Arc has faced numerous challenges in establishing a downtown campus.
The school is going ahead with the project without Beverly Hills-based SY Realty Investors, which announced plans last fall to purchase the 10.5-acre parcel that would include the school, 400 proposed units of housing and new commercial space. In September, SCI-Arc relocated its campus from the Marina del Rey area to the temporary buildings on the downtown site, but SY Realty failed to close escrow on the property.
In addition, the school sought city sponsorship of a bond issue that would reduce its borrowing costs and allow it to purchase the terminal building. But those plans have been postponed until the school can establish the "extremely strong credit" borrowers will demand, said Carey Jenkins, manager of the city's Industrial Development Authority.
Property owner Dynamic Builders and its founder Ramon Bonin stepped into the picture by agreeing to renovate the terminal building and lease it to the school for several years. SCI-Arc eventually will buy the building, said Ken Jackson, director of sales for Dynamic Builders.
Officials from SY Realty did not return phone calls seeking comment. SCI-Arc President Neil Denari was traveling and could not be reached for an interview.
Jackson said that Dynamic Builders is talking to two potential buyers interested in developing the remainder of the site at 3rd Street and Santa Fe Avenue for housing.
"They are people who understand residences in a loft setting," said Jackson, whose firm specializes in industrial properties. "It's going to create a lot of energy in the area."