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Urban Core Plan Gains

Momentum grows for a project to add parks and an entertainment-retail complex to downtown.

September 11, 2003|Daren Briscoe and Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writers

An ambitious $1.2-billion plan to drape Los Angeles' core with 15 acres of parkland and boost area nightlife with a bustling retail and entertainment complex is gathering political momentum, although financing for the project remains a mystery.

Talk of downtown revitalization has swirled across the city for decades, but politicians, developers, businesspeople and others familiar with the details and scope of the new plan said that it has the potential to become reality.

Los Angeles County officials voted last week to establish a joint city-county authority to oversee the effort, and city approval is expected soon. There is no timeline for the proposed development.

The lack of an urban centerpiece like New York's Central Park or Washington's National Mall, although never a fatal flaw in a city of nomads and a culture wedded to the automobile, has nonetheless vexed generations of Angeleno politicians and planners.

"It's an idea that's been around for a long time," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who has seen several proposals spark, and ultimately sputter, since she took office in 1991.

The latest proposal involves three components, the first of which is the creation of a park between City Hall on Spring Street and the Department of Water and Power on Bunker Hill. The park would connect those sites to the mall that fronts the county Hall of Administration and courthouse between Hill Street and Grand Avenue, and to the Music Center Plaza between Grand Avenue and Hope Street. It would include stands of trees, ponds and open fields atop an underground parking structure.

Another goal is the development of four parcels of nearby land now used as parking lots, including two city-owned plots on the west side of Grand immediately south of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and two county-owned plots on the east side of Grand at 1st Street, directly across the street from the concert hall.

Plans call for development on those lots to include up to 1,000 residential units, 1 million square feet of office space, 600,000 square feet of retail, entertainment and restaurant space, and possibly a 400-room hotel.

The project also would extend a realignment and redesign of Grand Avenue, now under way between Temple and 2nd streets, as far as Cesar Chavez Avenue to the north and 5th Street to the south. The improvements would include widening sidewalks, planting seasonal trees and refurbishing walls and storefronts.

"It's going to be an exceptional opportunity," said City Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes the project area, to develop "a vibrant cultural corridor for everyone in Los Angeles to enjoy."

The power- and revenue-sharing arrangement approved last week by the county Board of Supervisors calls for the city and county each to have two representatives on a five-member board of directors to oversee the project, with a nonvoting director to be appointed by the governor. The City Council is expected to consider the proposal within the next few weeks.

The city and county have a history of squabbling over downtown development, most recently when the county successfully sued to prevent the city from using $1 billion in county property-tax revenue for redevelopment in the downtown business district.

Speaking before the Board of Supervisors last week, Jim Thomas, chairman of the Grand Avenue Committee, a nonprofit group that is spearheading downtown development and has been heavily involved in formulating the plan, said the power-sharing arrangement is crucial to the plan's success.

"A key point is to say, look, let's not put this in a fashion where one governmental body can push this over the other. We want to be forced to work in a cooperative fashion," Thomas said.

Though no agreement exists yet on how the project would be financed, officials said they plan to seek revenue from state and federal sources, commercial sponsorships, grants and private-endowment earnings.

Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said the project's potential to attract private investment could be significant, given the area's location near the Civic Center Metro Rail Station and a steadily expanding roster of cultural attractions, including Disney Hall, Mark Taper Forum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the city's nearby Central Library.

Eli Broad, the billionaire developer and philanthropist who funded the Grand Avenue Committee and is credited by many as the driving force behind the development plan, said it was the building of Disney Hall and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels that highlighted the area's need for a "a vital center."

"If we're going to be a great, world-class city, we have to have places where people are comfortable being together," Broad said.

Other downtown business leaders believe that the plan signals that the long-hoped-for revitalization of downtown is on the horizon.

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