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Upscale Condos Planned for Former Downtown Home of UCLA Extension

Some of the 125 lofts envisioned for the site near Staples Center will be priced over $600,000.

January 27, 2003|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

The former downtown Los Angeles home of UCLA Extension, shuttered for years after the neighborhood declined, has been purchased by developers who plan to turn the 80-year-old building into upscale loft-style condominiums, some of which will be priced over $600,000.

CIM Group and partner Lee Group paid UCLA Extension $4.5 million for the four-story building and parking lot at Grand Avenue and 11th Street. They plan to build 125 lofts on the site, with 70 units in the existing building, which will have three penthouse floors added to the roof, and 55 units on the adjacent lot.

Construction will begin this summer on the $50-million development, said Jeff Lee, president of Lee Group, a Los Angeles firm whose previous loft projects include a retail and residential complex on Main Street in Venice known for the ballerina clown that juts from the building.

Lee Group and CIM Group already are developing another condominium project nearby -- the 91-unit Flower Street Lofts, which are built into the shell of an old industrial building. More than 100 would-be owners have qualified for loans to buy the units, which start at more than $300,000, said Avi Shemesh, a principal of Hollywood-based CIM Group. The units won't be available until the end of June.

"The overwhelmingly positive response shows that there continues to be a substantial demand for housing downtown," Shemesh said.

Flower Street Lofts was one of the first for-sale projects built downtown since the 1980s, and most lenders refused to finance it, Lee said. The construction loan finally came from Taiwan-based China Trust Commercial Bank. He predicts it will be much easier to finance the Grand Avenue Lofts, as the renovated UCLA building will be known.

UCLA Extension had owned the building since the 1950s, said the school's dean, Robert Lapiner. "It was an excellent location for many years," he said, "but downtown changed," and students grew wary of visiting the neighborhood at night.

The university moved its classrooms to the financial district in the early 1990s, and the old office building had other tenants before being locked up about five years ago, Lapiner said. The arrival of Staples Center a few blocks away in 1999 and the burgeoning downtown residential rental market made the area viable again, he said.

Killefer Flammang Architects will oversee conversion of the old building, which should be complete by summer 2004. Units in the new building, which will have an Olive Street address, will be ready by early 2005. Units will be priced from the low $300,000s to "well over" $600,000 for the penthouses, Lee said.

CIM also is developing a $220-million residential and retail complex nearby that is expected to include a supermarket and more than 1,171 apartments and condos when all phases are completed in 2005.

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