DOWNTOWN–For years, out-of-towners and even some Angelenos have poked fun at Downtown LA for its lack of nightlife. With a few exceptions, most parts of the Central Business District become a veritable ghost town after the last office workers head home to the suburbs around 6 p.m.

A coalition of city officials and building-preservationists has begun trying to do something about it. The City Council recently approved a new adaptive re-use ordinance that should make it easier for developers to convert the CBD’s stock of old industrial and commercial buildings into housing. And now, a new survey by the nonprofit Los Angeles Conservancy estimates that nearly 50 of Downtown’s older commercial structures are ripe for conversion to apartments—a report that might kindle the interest of builders and real estate investors.

“Converting those buildings would be a great way to revitalize the CBD and, at the same time, save some very beautiful structures that are important parts of our city’s history and architectural legacy,” Conservancy Executive Director Linda Dishman tells

It would also be an important step toward creating the type of 24-hour-a-day environment in Downtown LA that San Francisco, New York and some other big cities already enjoy. “To have a vibrant Downtown, you need people who actually live Downtown,” Dishman says. “And right now, there just isn’t a lot of good housing stock in our CBD.”

Not every old building is suitable for conversion. Dishman says the Conservancy surveyed about 200 old structures in the CBD and that roughly 150 of them have ventilation, lighting or other problems that would prevent them from being successfully converted into apartments.

Nonetheless, Dishman says the 50 or so conversion candidates could provide as many as 5,000 sorely needed units in Downtown. Unlike most other large cities, LA’s CBD has but a few apartment buildings and most are fully leased.

Only a few brave developers have tackled Downtown conversion projects before. One of the biggest such projects is the six-story Hellman Building in the Old Bank District, which locally based Gilmore Associates is turning into trendy apartments.

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