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LOS ANGELES-The Urban Land Institute and the Downtown Breakfast Club focused on the emergence of live/work lofts as a force to be reckoned with in the US housing industry recently in two separate events in L.A. Speakers at the ULI and Breakfast Club sessions pointed out that half of the businesses in America are run from the home, according to the US Census Bureau and―with the advent of the economic downturn―even more Americans are turning to live/work housing.

As N. Richard Lewis, president of Lewis & Associates, pointed out in an overview of the live/work phenomenon, live/work housing will continue to grow even after the economy recovers. “One reason for this assumption is that with each successive downturn it takes longer for jobs to be replaced,” said Lewis, whose public relations and advertising firm has been involved in the real estate industry for more than 40 years. “In the early 90s it took 19 months to re-create the jobs lost in that recession,” he noted.

Speakers on the live/work topic included Alex Moradi, developer of the Pacific Electric Lofts; Hamid Behdad, president of Central City Development Group and known as “the czar of adaptive reuse housing” in Los Angeles; and Karin Liljegren, director of live/work housing for Santa Monica-based Killefer Flammang Architects, which has designed about 20 % of the new units in Downtown Los Angeles in the past decade.

Figures on the growth and numbers of live/work housing are considered to be conservative because, as much as they have grown, they still do not include the home businesses started since the advent of the downturn. According to the speakers, the live/work market is falling into three basic categories: startup businesses, existing small businesses that do not want to grow and late-stage Baby Boomers who’ve been laid off and have decided to sail under their own banner for the remainder of their career.

Moradi, who is managing partner of the ICO Group of Cos., commented that while the live/work market has been mainly in the 24-44 age category, “With the advent of the downturn we expect older empty-nesters who are still working to become increasingly interested in this mode of living.” The live/work trend will develop more in urban rather than suburban areas, Moradi added, for two reasons: access to public transportation and the proximity of entertainment and cultural activities, plus recreation at their doorstep. Since these folks are tech savvy, they also are attracted to the onsite business facilities that enable them to operate in that context, said the developer, whose building is 96 % leased.

Liljegren explained that, in terms of design, there are three basic requisites for live/work projects: open floor plans, flexible use of space and “enabling spatial definition for each component of the unit.” The changing work style of the current generation “calls for great flexibility because increasing numbers of people are involved in several occupational pursuits as opposed to the one-job, one-employer paradigm of the 60s,70s and 80s,” she said. The ideal design solution at the outset of development is one that can address a wide variety of lifestyles, according to Liljegren, who has spearheaded the design of more than 2,500 live/work units in such landmarks as the Roosevelt Lofts, the Lofts at Hollywood and Vine and the Old Bank District.

According to Behdad, the current inventory of live/work housing in Los Angeles “is just the beginning.” He pointed out that at least 100 other buildings Downtown L.A. and numerous older office buildings along Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport and in the Mid-Wilshire district are also suitable for adaptive reuse.

Sales and marketing consultant Jim White, who heads Ultimate Life Living, emphasized that other incentives of live/work housing include tax benefits, vastly reduced commuting costs and attendant environmental considerations. “We’re selling a very desirable product that has great utility—not only now but also in the future,” said White, who is also a Downtown activist.

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