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Little Tokyo Project Raises Big Expectations

As a 303-unit apartment complex breaks ground, downtown boosters say the time is ripe for more residential construction.

September 22, 2003|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

Little Tokyo is getting big-time attention.

The neighborhood, one of the oldest in Los Angeles, is in the midst of a redevelopment boom that made the leap from commercial to residential last week when construction began on a $65-million apartment complex.

The 303-unit Alexan Savoy, on the southeast corner of Alameda and 1st streets, is being built by Trammell Crow Residential, one of the country's largest multifamily housing developers. The hope is that the complex will attract some of the hundreds of thousands of Angelenos with jobs in the nearby central business district.

"I think people want to live close to where they work in a neighborhood that has restaurants open at night, has shopping and a library and post office, and in a downtown area that includes half of Los Angeles County's cultural attractions," said Alex Wong, the project's managing director.

Little Tokyo, which skirts the northeastern edge of downtown, has always had a large stock of apartments and multifamily dwellings. Since the late 1800s, the neighborhood has served as the cultural, culinary and economic heart of the Japanese American community in Southern California. Just up the street from the Alexan Savoy at Rose Street, Little Tokyo's first boardinghouse opened in 1898.

But recent redevelopment projects have been mostly commercial; the neighborhood now has an Office Depot store, a Starbucks outlet and other chain retailers.

Downtown boosters believe that the Alexan Savoy will help their goal of turning the central part of the city into a livable, 24/7 community, a magnet for throngs of corporate and public employees who work in and around downtown, as well as college students and artists.

"This is yet another indication that downtown is on the move," said Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Central City Assn. "We've waited a long time for downtown to attract the interest of major developers."

Today, there are at least 8,000 people renting or owning homes in downtown L.A. Its stock of market-rate housing units is expected to grow 44% in the next 18 months, according to statistics compiled by the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, which represents downtown property owners.

The units within the gated Alexan Savoy, expected to be completed in 2005, would range in price from $1,000 a month for a 500-square-foot studio to $3,000 a month for units with two and three bedrooms. Plans are for the complex to have round-the-clock security, concierge services, a cafe, a screening room and wiring for broadband Internet access.

In the heart of Little Tokyo, the Alexan Savoy "will make a good connection between the civic center and the city's historic core, Little Tokyo and the Artists District," said developer Tom Gilmore, who built the $36-million Old Bank District project, at 4th and Main streets, which combines restaurant and retail space and has plans for a day spa and yoga studio.

The Alexan Savoy site is near the Japanese American National Museum and across the street from a planned Gold Line Metro station.

"It should be a great place to live, just a few feet away from future mass transit," said Mark Tarczynski, first vice president of developer CB Richard Ellis, which has no connection to the project. He said its higher-priced units would complement the proliferation of lower-end lofts in the area.

Brent Hogan, a broker with Marcus & Millichap, said that "there seems to be pent-up demand for housing downtown." He noted that the Flower Street Lofts condo development is unfinished but that 80% of the units have been sold.

"The first thing to come is the people, then the retail development and then more office space," he said. "Hopefully," Little Tokyo "will follow that pattern."

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