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Broad Has Plan for Reviving Downtown Civic Center

The businessman's vision calls for office towers, shops and apartments near Disney Hall. But financing remains in doubt.

September 17, 2003|Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writer

Another attempt to resuscitate the heart of downtown Los Angeles will be announced today as plans are unveiled for a $1.25-billion overhaul of the Civic Center that lacks two vital elements: financing and official approval.

The announcement comes a month before the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the crown jewel around which the redevelopment would radiate, and a year after the opening of the nearby Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

"Paris has its Champs-Elysees. New York has its Rockefeller Center, Times Square and Central Park," said multibillionaire businessman Eli Broad, a co-chairman of the Grand Avenue Committee, the nonprofit group heading the project. "Now, Los Angeles will have at its center a grand boulevard and urban park, providing millions of people each year the opportunity to walk, shop and play while enjoying downtown at its best."

The first phase of the plan would landscape and slightly realign Grand Avenue from 5th Street north, past Disney hall, the Music Center and the cathedral, to Cesar Chavez Avenue. Work already has begun on the realignment.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 18, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Grand Avenue -- An article in Wednesday's California section incorrectly stated that the Los Angeles City Council had yet to consider a power- and revenue-sharing agreement with Los Angeles County for the proposed Civic Center revitalization project. In fact, the council approved the agreement Friday.

Later phases call for much more: construction of two office towers, two housing complexes, a hotel, restaurants and shops on property owned by the Community Redevelopment Agency and the county on Grand Avenue south of 2nd Street and along 1st Street between Grand and Hill Street. The land is now used for parking lots.

The plan also envisions landscaping the Civic Center Mall between City Hall and the Department of Water and Power building at the top of Bunker Hill. The landscaping would include the last unfinished segment of the mall, between Spring Street and Broadway, that has languished as a parking lot for more than 40 years.

The county and city have a long history of squabbling over downtown development, and final approval of the project by the Board of Supervisors, the City Council and their subordinate agencies is far from assured. Dozens of other downtown revitalization projects have come to naught over the last 40 years.

However, the city and county have lent support to early planning for the Grand Avenue project, and Broad said Tuesday he is confident that both will see the project through.

Mayor James K. Hahn and Supervisor Gloria Molina also expressed optimism.

"I think the chances for this one are very good, better than we've seen in a long time," Hahn said.

Over the years, he said, the city and county "have argued like little children" about such projects, but this time both appear ready "to sit down and work things out." The project is expected to generate more than $800 million annually, he said.

Molina also said the time appears right. "This is an exciting time for Angelenos," Molina said. "The uniqueness of a major park in the heart of downtown Los Angeles is testimony to our belief that this area is becoming an all-encompassing place where businesses and families can enjoy the commodities of city life with the luxuries of green and recreation space."

A power- and revenue-sharing agreement approved earlier this month by the supervisors calls for the city and county to each have two members on a five-member board overseeing the project. The City Council has yet to consider the proposal.

Broad said he expects to get the bulk of the financing -- $950 million or more -- from private investors who would build the office towers, apartment houses and other commercial structures in the complex.

He said the other co-chairman of the Grand Avenue Committee, developer James Thomas, has talked to several major developers in the East, and they have told him the plan is commercially viable.

However, Broad conceded that as yet, there have been no firm commitments for commercial investment.

Despite the remaining uncertainties and the scale of the project, Broad said it could be completed within a decade. "I've seen 11 different plans for Grand Avenue development, and this [is the first one that] deals with commercial reality. James Thomas and I would not be involved if we did not think this would happen."

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