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Grand Avenue developer gets 4-month extension

Related Cos. wins an extension to submit another architectural plan for two luxury towers after a previous design was rejected, scuttling the project.

October 01, 2013|By Seema Mehta
  • An artist's rendering of the Grand Avenue development, showing the proposed structure on the left and Disney Hall on the right.
An artist's rendering of the Grand Avenue development, showing the… (Grand Avenue L.A. )

After rejecting the initial architectural drawings for an ambitious plan to remake downtown's Grand Avenue into a cultural hub, a government panel unanimously voted Monday to give the developer a nearly four-month extension to create a suitable proposal.

The 4-0 vote by the Los Angeles Grand Avenue Authority was critical, coming hours before the authority's agreement with the developer expired, which would have thrown the plan into chaos. But the chairwoman of the authority, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who led the criticism of the design last week, warned that the body was tiring of delays.

"We hope this is the last and final extension this [authority] will be involved in," she said. "We are hopeful as anyone that this project will get moving and it will be a first-class development that we would like to see along Grand Avenue."

A representative of Related Cos., the developer, said they shared that goal.

"This has been a challenging process, but we remain singularly focused on the creation of a world-class destination development for downtown L.A.," said Bea Hsu, vice president of development for Related California.

Efforts to remake Grand Avenue into the "Champs-Elysees of Los Angeles" have been underway for more than a decade and have often been delayed, in part because of the recession. The $650-million proposal discussed Monday is the centerpiece of the project — two towers offering luxury condos, apartments, a hotel and high-end shops and restaurants across from Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Last week, the authority voted 3 to 0 to reject the architectural concept presented by the developer, saying that the designs were boring and unappealing, and failed to offer meaningful public space. The vote was billed as a rejection of the proposal, not the developer, which has invested nine years and $120 million into the effort.

But according to the authority's staff, the vote killed the project. If the project falls apart, the county could face major legal liability, notably because of the $50 million that Related put into the expansion and reconstruction of adjacent Grand Park, which stretches from the Music Center to City Hall. The developer is already building a residential tower on Grand Avenue as part of the authority's effort to remake the corridor.

In recent days, staffers worked hastily to fix the situation, calling a special meeting Monday, hours before the authority's agreement with Related expired at midnight. Three of the four members on the panel participated by phone, including Molina, who called from a hotel lobby in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she is on vacation. Her line frequently cut out, leading a staffer to repeatedly call out, "Madame chair, are you there?"

In addition to extending the agreement to Jan. 20, the authority voted Monday to find a facilitator to work with the developer and to rescind last week's vote to reject the conceptual proposal. Related must submit new conceptual plans by Nov. 25, but is encouraged to do so by Oct. 30.

Representatives of business, labor and downtown interests testified in support of the project and the developer before the vote.

"I've been involved in the effort to revitalize downtown from the very beginning and this project is extremely important," said Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the downtown-based Central City Assn., adding that the value of the overall project is $1 billion. "You don't threaten $1 billion because you have concerns about a conceptual design."'

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