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The City's Center Is Enjoying a Residential Revival

Many areas need improvement but an economic forecast for L.A.'s downtown housing market is bright.

June 16, 2003|Chuck Philips | Times Staff Writer

Residential development is surging in downtown Los Angeles with thousands of potential homeowners migrating to the city's center, according to a report to be released today by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

The study paints a bright economic forecast for downtown, suggesting that the area is in the middle of a housing boom, with 16 residential projects in the works -- the bulk of which are older office buildings being converted into hip loft units. The running count of market-rate units completed or under construction is 6,700.

More people are moving downtown, the report suggests, than anywhere else in the city -- highlighting a population increase of 2,834 new residents, nearly 13% between 1990 and 2000.

And while employment slipped to about 501,100 in 2002, the forecast predicts a modest rebound by 503,800 jobs annually. Most of those jobs are generated by the government, with a 2002 average of 271,211 workers.

"We've got young professionals starting out downtown now instead of living way out in the suburbs," said Lee Harrington, president and chief executive of the LAEDC. "The city has sizzle now and people are serious about avoiding that commute. That's why housing is such a hot factor downtown."

Highlighted in the downtown forecast is the blossoming of creative industries such as fashion, jewelry and home furnishings, which Harrington predicts will draw international buyers downtown.

The report also speaks glowingly about the effect of multimillion-dollar developments such as Walt Disney Concert Hall, the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and other performing arts venues about to be unveiled along Grand Avenue. The recently opened Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the report says, has already drawn thousands of new visitors into the area.

Not everything is rosy though. The forecast makes clear that the city still suffers from many problems.

While many sections of town have been upgraded, certain areas are plagued by crime and homelessness, according to the report. Tensions between business and social services providers have led to numerous public clashes.

This unflattering image continues to hound the city and prevents many Westside residents from venturing east of La Brea Avenue, the report says.

In addition, downtown streets are difficult to navigate for strangers. There is a lack of adequate road signs and some streets are still so dark that they discourage patrons from walking to and from hotels and restaurants.

Downtown also suffers from a fractured leadership, according to the report. The area is divided into three City Council districts, with council members pushing their own agendas. As a result, officials have a difficult time accomplishing citywide goals.

There also is a pressing need to upgrade the convention center and build an adjacent hotel and retail project, the report says.

"As business travel and tourism come back, Los Angeles will be at a major disadvantage until these facilities are built," Harrington said.

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