Within the last two months, major announcements have been made regarding the massive Grand Avenue project near the Music Center and the L.A. Live/convention center hotel development to be built next to the Staples Center. The Planning Report is pleased to present this interview with Los Angeles City Councilmember Jan Perry, in which she elaborates on these & other planned landmark projects, as well as what they portend for creating a 24/7 environment in downtown Los Angeles. The Councilwoman also notes the work which remains: housing the homeless.
Jan, it appears L.A.'s 9th Council District, which you represent, is once again the "Great Ninth Council District." With downtown development projects repeatedly making the front pages of both local and national newspapers, how would you summarize what's going on?
We're finally reaping the benefits of very hard work over the last decade. So many projects are coming on line, and we are in the throes of a complete and all encompassing renaissance.
Grand Avenue is but the latest major downtown development project to be announced. Describe what that project includes and how Related Companies was selected.
We formed a Joint Powers Authority with the County and City-since the CRA has two parcels and the county has two parcels-to pool our efforts and our resources to create an opportunity for a very broad vision for Grand Avenue. There was a Grand Avenue Committee comprised of a number of downtown stakeholders. It was very broad and diverse, and they assisted in screening those who responded to the RFP and making some final recommendations.
That $1.3 billion project is being governed by a joint development agreement. In an interview with CRA's Bud Ovrom, he suggested that the joint development agreement was one of the best things that ever happened between the City and the County. Is that your take?
Yes. It's been a very good experience. It's been a tremendous experience working with the County, and it sets an exciting precedent for maximizing our assets.
The Grand Avenue Authority's decision follows an earlier public announcement of the L.A. Live development and a Convention Center Hotel facility. How critical is this project?
We're talking about having two hotels, totaling 1,200 rooms, and a structure that would be the focal point for our entertainment district, with square feet for new jobs, retail, commercial, ballrooms, meetings and things like that. But more than that, it should be a catalytic project for activating the surrounding streets, improving and enhancing the appeal of the convention center worldwide. It should increase our convention business enormously. It's a critical project that we must get built.
The number of housing units being built downtown is noteworthy. How many housing units have been approved and are being planned in the downtown portion of your district?
Well, you can see just by driving around that the number of units that have come on line just in the last six months. We're talking about not only new construction, but also the many adaptive reuse projects. The number of units in the pipeline and completed are well in excess of 8,000-10,000. And more are coming.
What market forces are driving such development activity downtown?
There is a perception of enthusiasm for this market. People are tired of commuting, developers see an opportunity to assemble land, and there is a willingness on the part of the political environment to be more visionary, taking existing structures and putting them to other uses. And now that we're experiencing our full realization of what the live-work idea is and how adaptive reuse will work, we're reaping the fruits of our labor.
Whether it's LA Live, the Grand Avenue project, or the thousands of new housing units coming on line, when all are built, how will downtown be different?
What we should have downtown is a very interesting and eclectic set of neighborhoods. Some areas will be active all the time. I would suspect that the entertainment district, with its new housing, should be active probably 24 hours a day. And there will be areas like Little Tokyo that are changing at a different rate and in a different way. There is more market rate housing there, but there is also a high concentration of seniors. So I would expect Little Tokyo to remain a community that focuses on the amenities in the immediate area, lots of places to walk, places that are affordable for seniors and people on a fixed income, and attractive streetscapes with a lot of street furniture. There is also the original loft community around SciArc. And, SciArc is working very hard to make sure that it remains and that we are able to craft a good understanding between SciArc and the surrounding property owners to the benefit of not only both, but the community.
Jan, there is much discussion in the Council about the need for the production of more housing given population growth projections. Inclusionary zoning is one approach being advanced by your council colleagues. Your district has had growth without such a requirement. Is downtown unique?
Well, I have redevelopment areas in my district to aid development. As a result, I am a big fan of redevelopment. The redevelopment agency has done a lot of good work in reaching out into the development community and educating developers on the benefit of developing in these areas that were not previously considered. So, that's what you are seeing in and around downtown.
Land costs downtown, as opposed to the Westside, are significantly lower such that people are now realizing the opportunity by developing downtown. We have more land that is assembled or could be assembled. And even in cases where there are brownfields, there is a different view in how to take land that was considered to be previously contaminated and remediate it. But, the biggest difference down here is that there is not any entrenched nimbyism to obstruct development.
Jan, your council office has been incredibly successful in advancing the renaissance of downtown, but what have you not been as able to do re development?
The biggest loss has been our inability to develop long-term and permanent housing for people who are homeless. For example, tying together the high level of development activity on the Figueroa corridor, using that tax increment within the boundaries of the area to create a lot of new construction. I'm not talking about transitional hosing. I'm talking about long-term housing to give people some stability in their lives.
Joel Kotkin, among other economic reporters, has written about the potential of the South L.A. real estate market. Your district stretches through a good portion of South L.A. How would you characterize the opportunities in that market for growth and investment?
With the advent of all the new school construction, investment possibilities have increased in that area. I'm particularly thrilled with the Bio/Medical magnet that we have, the K-12 Science Program at Figueroa and Jefferson, and all of the brand new schools. Not only does new construction lift up the community, but the fact is that good school facilities with decent class sizes makes the neighborhood more attractive to home buyers. That is what people seek when they are starting a family. When you combine the investment in neighborhoods with the economic development ongoing in nearby areas such as the Figueroa corridor downtown, I am very optimistic about the prospects for South L.A. People will have the opportunity to spend less time commuting, while owning a home with a yard-a piece of the American dream-all within fifteen minutes of downtown.
If I had any advice to give to people who reside South of the Santa Monica Freeway, it would be to hold onto your home. Invest in the structure, improve it and stay because I believe property values will increase very quickly as we continue to do construction. Even as new construction north of the 10 Freeway continues to head south and east, that will benefit South L.A. And once they get the hotel up and running at the convention center, my assumption is that, since it is located on a major traffic corridor, it will enable people who may be unskilled the opportunity to get new jobs and to be able to get there using our Metro system.
Two last questions. What is reasonable timeline for building out L.A. Live?
Well, I think you can use the first Staples Center project as a benchmark for how long it takes AEG to do construction. I believe that project was done in two years or less.
Lastly, two city councilmembers, an incumbent Mayor and a former Assembly Speaker are now running to be the next Mayor of Los Angeles. What should the candidates be addressing in their campaigns?
Economic development-bringing projects online that will create a larger market for jobs at all levels and making sure we keep pace with this emerging market for housing. We also must look at the city's infrastructure, what needs to be done and how to pay for it.