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L.A. City Council OKs elaborate digital light zone at Wilshire Grand

The rebuilt 45-story Wilshire Grand Hotel and 65-story office tower can have digital ads, scrolling text and non-commercial graphics that the developer says are 'the wave of the future' and a councilman calls 'art.'

March 30, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • A rendering of the proposed $1-billion Wilshire Grand complex, for which the City Council approved a new digital-lighting zone. The first 10 floors can have digital ads, while some of the floors above will feature LED images such as flowers and vines that would fade in and out.
A rendering of the proposed $1-billion Wilshire Grand complex, for which… (Thomas Properties Group )

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved an elaborate package of new flashing signs, illuminated graphics and moving text for two planned downtown skyscrapers, ignoring critics who warned that such brightly lighted images would degrade the look of the city.

On a 12-0 vote, the council unanimously created a new one-block sign district for the planned 45-story rebuilding of the Wilshire Grand Hotel and accompanying 65-story office tower.

That district will allow various kinds of digital advertising on the first 10 floors of the two towers. The tops of the two skyscrapers will feature digital signs promoting the buildings' owner and major tenants. And on dozens of stories in between, LED lights would display noncommercial images such as flowers and vines that would fade in and out.

Councilman Ed Reyes praised the "architectural lighting" on the upper floors, saying it should not be confused with other brightly lighted billboards. "It is art. And I believe it adds more culture" to Los Angeles, he said.

Added Councilman Dennis Zine: "I am amazed at how anyone could be opposed to this."

The sign district is the first approved since the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the city's ban on new billboards last year. That law allows sections of the city to be carved out as exceptions to the ban.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl initially cast an opposing vote, saying the city should have found a way to share in the financial proceeds of the new digital advertising. But he essentially rescinded it minutes later to speed the project's approval. The council had already agreed to give developer Korean Air and its subsidiary, Hanjin International Corp., a tax break of up to $79 million for the two towers over the next 25 years. On Tuesday, council members also agreed to sell the developers more than $25 million in "floor area rights," which will allow the proposed office tower to be taller than the zoning allows.

Union members who packed the council chamber praised the hotel proposal, saying it would create roughly 7,300 construction jobs at a time of high unemployment. "This project is going to bring a lot of hope to a lot of members in our community," said David Kersh, spokesman for the Carpenters Contractors Cooperation Committee, a construction trade group.

Opponents of the sign district said they did not oppose the hotel's redevelopment, but argued that new flashing signs would barrage the public and, in some cases, distract motorists. "Digital billboards do not solve the unemployment in the city. Digital billboards will not increase tourism in our city," said Marina del Rey resident Jan Book, who voiced exasperation with the digital signs near her home.

The Wilshire Grand sign district is so complicated that it is divided into four vertical levels and three geographic subsections. Some lighted signs will change every eight seconds, others every four minutes. Still others will feature scrolling text.

The hotel proposal was backed enthusiastically by Councilwoman Jan Perry, a 2013 mayoral candidate who pushed hard for approval of the signs and images sought by Korean Air and its partner, Thomas Properties Group.

Perry persuaded her colleagues to double the size of the scrolling news ribbons that would be displayed on the first three floors of the towers. She and her colleagues tripled the amount of signage allowed by the Planning Commission, from 7,100 square feet to 30,900 square feet, between the fourth and 10th floors.

Perry also won approval of the noncommercial architectural lighting on the upper floors that had been opposed by the Planning Commission. Without those lights, the hotel would quickly become "dated," said Jim Thomas, chief executive of Thomas Properties Group.

"The signs we are talking about are the wave of the future," he said. "There will be no major building built in the future that does not take advantage of this new technology."

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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