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L.A. Boosters to Return to New York

Civic and business leaders will again venture east to meet with potential investors, this time touting the city's progress in making downtown more hospitable to development.

June 01, 2004|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

We told you so.

Los Angeles civic and business leaders are taking that message to New York next week. They plan to tell potential investors that they've made good on the promises made 18 months ago on a similar mission touting the central business district of the nation's second-biggest city.

Walt Disney Concert Hall has opened to acclaim. The Gold Line rail connection to Pasadena is up and running. More than 3,100 apartments or condos and a long-awaited supermarket are under construction.

"The promises we made, the predictions, have come to pass," said John Cushman, chairman of real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield Inc. and one of the L.A. boosters who will lobby in the country's financial capital.

Others in the high-profile group include Mayor James K. Hahn; billionaire philanthropist and businessman Eli Broad; developer Robert F. Maguire of Maguire Properties Inc.; Staples Center President Timothy Leiweke; Gregory M. Vilkin, president of Forest City Residential West Inc., whose firm is creating 277 loft-style apartments in the historic Subway Terminal Building overlooking Pershing Square; City Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes downtown; and Carol Schatz, president of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District.

"We have so much more to tell them about," Schatz said. "So much more investment has been made in downtown."

Still, downtown has an image problem, the mayor said, with some New Yorkers believing that Los Angeles "rolls up the sidewalk at 5 o'clock." Not true, he said: "We now have a lot of night life."

There might be more in a few years. Staples Center owner AEG is working to complete agreements for a 4-million-square-foot development across from the arena, to be called L.A. Live, that would include a 7,000-seat theater, a 1,200-room hotel plus other entertainment, residential and office uses.

Another major project on the horizon is a proposed $1.2-billion mixed-use development on both sides of Grand Avenue south of 1st Street that would combine housing, shopping, dining and entertainment on eight acres. Two development teams have been selected as finalists for the job.

Prices are rising quickly for downtown office buildings, even though average vacancy is hovering at a not- enviable 18%. More than $1.8 billion of office buildings have traded hands since January 2003.

"Downtown is the hub of the wheel -- the cultural and government center of Los Angeles," Cushman said.

That doesn't necessarily mean investors will want to stake a downtown claim, said Bobby Turner, managing partner of Beverly Hills investment firm Canyon Capital Realty Advisors.

"We compete against Miami, New York and Chicago," said Turner, a member of the trade mission. "All of these cities have effective lobbying groups for institutional capital."

Among the group's targets is Maria Fiorini Ramirez, a New York economic consultant who said she was impressed with the last L.A. pitch.

"It looks like a lot is going on," she said. "You have to tell people about it."

Her attitude was more supportive than that of Donald Trump, who announced before the last visit that "the downtown area has heretofore been sort of a depressing place. It needs people. It needs life."

A comeback for downtown Los Angeles makes sense to Ramirez.

"With the prices of real estate in California being so high," she said, "downtown L.A. is, like, why not?"

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