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Finalists Face Off in Grand Ave. Project Bid

June 29, 2004|Louise Roug | Times Staff Writer

The two teams vying to develop the $1.2-billion Grand Avenue project offered to civic leaders Monday morning their first visions of how to transform the area around Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The teams -- led by developers Forest City Enterprises, based in Cleveland, and Related Cos., based in New York -- showed no models or drawings, but instead talked in philosophical terms about the project at the heart of the cultural and civic district downtown.

A decision on the winning team could come as early as July 19.

The teams -- selected as finalists in the bid -- had been asked for a 30-minute presentation of their qualifications, 10 minutes of which were to be dedicated to a "concept analysis": a vision for the development and its impact on the vicinity, including an expansion and improvement of the County Mall into a 16-acre civic park that connects the Music Center and City Hall.

Forest City's team pitched a trolley system running the length of Grand Avenue, from the Civic Center to Staples Center.

"There needs to be a 'there' there," said urban designer Peter Calthorpe, a member of the Forest City team, which presented a concept of Grand Avenue as a "grand esplanade."

"A broad, tree-lined forecourt for the downtown landmarks," is how Calthorpe described Forest City's goal at the meeting. "Something that physically and visually connects the downtown."

Related's team spoke of the potential for a unique retail and entertainment complex.

Stephen M. Ross, chairman of Related, said after the meeting that his team envisions a project "complementary to the cultural center that's there and complementary to the Staples Center."

Ross said his team has talked to Cirque du Soleil and media giant Clear Channel about developing restaurants and comedy clubs.

"Design is an important factor, but right now the most important thing is the planning phase, setting forth the program," he said.

The project has been billed as one of the largest developments in downtown history, and city and county planners envision a spectacular 3.2-million-square-foot mixed-use area on four parcels surrounding Disney Hall. (Two of the lots are owned by the county, two by the city.)

Among Forest City's current projects is the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards in New York, which includes a Frank Gehry-designed sports arena for the New Jersey Nets basketball team. Forest City is also developing the 52-story New York Times Co. headquarters adjoining Times Square in Manhattan, a building designed by Renzo Piano. In downtown Los Angeles, the firm is developing Met Lofts and the Subway Terminal Building.

The firm has yet to select a lead architect for the Grand Avenue project. But Albert Ratner, chairman of Forest City Enterprises, said that if chosen, it will create a design competition and probably hire more than one architect.

In presenting its qualifications, the Related team highlighted the firm's recent development of the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle in New York, designed by architect David Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Childs has also joined Related in its bid for the Grand Avenue project. Another architect on the Related team is Thom Mayne, whose Santa Monica-based firm, Morphosis, designed the new Caltrans headquarters downtown and was selected to develop the 2012 Olympic Village in Queens, N.Y.

Monday was not the first time these development companies have faced off. In the last two years, they have competed on several projects in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. For competitive reasons, the teams were not at each other's presentations, attended by about 100 people in the boardroom of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

After the presentations, County Supervisor Gloria Molina said affordable housing needed to be an integral part of the project. Molina sits on the Joint Powers Authority -- the city and county agency charged with implementing the project -- along with Robert Ovrom, administrator of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency; Councilwoman Jan Perry; and County Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen. A fifth, nonvoting member has recently been appointed: Sunne Wright McPeak, secretary of the state Transportation, Business and Housing Agency.

Officials have described the Grand Avenue development as potentially comprising 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. Of the projected $1.2-billion cost, about $300 million would be needed for public infrastructure improvements and about $900 million for real estate development.

After the public hearing, developers also described to officials their anticipated funding sources.

The seven-member Grand Avenue Committee -- which includes managing director Martha Welborne, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and developer Jim Thomas who acts as an advisor to the authority -- is expected to make its recommendation to the authority by July 19. At that time, the authority can either accept that recommendation or defer its decision.

The chosen development team will have to take on all four parcels and come up with a comprehensive plan by September 2005.

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