Investors and developers are rushing in to capitalize on the redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles. Gateway cities like Los Angeles have always benefited from foreign investment. In this cycle, the influx of foreign capital is not only continuing the momentum of downtown LA’s revitalization, it is also redefining its skyline.
Distinct East Asian Design in DTLA
South Korea’s Hanjin Group (which also owns Korean Air) has started construction on the Wilshire Grand Tower in LA’s financial district. The $1billion development will be mixed-use, containing a 73-story hotel and office buildings with 5 stories of underground parking. Upon completion in 2017, the development will be more than a 1000ft tall, overtaking the US Bank Tower for the title of tallest building West of Mississipi. This super skyscraper’s LED-lit, sail shaped design will stand out among the otherwise flat-roofed buildings of DTLA. (The Wilshire Grand Tower was granted exception to the City’s fire ordinance requiring a rooftop helipad thanks to its high-tech building design and safety technologies that “exceed the city’s fire code”).
Tall buildings are challenging in seismically active California, and the Wilshire Grand Tower is an impressive feat from a structural engineering perspective. The building is founded on the largest concrete pour in the history of man (at 21,200 cubic yards it’s in the Guinness book of records.) The structural engineering firms that worked on this project – California-based Brandow & Johnson, Inc. and Thornton Tomasetti (the company behind Malaysia’s Petronas towers and the NY Times Building) – addressed seismic safety by designing the lateral loads to be borne by the reinforced concrete elevator column. This will allow more glass and less columns on the outside walls, which is key to the building’s aesthetic. This LA Curbed article talks in more detail about Wilshire Grand Tower’s seismically resilient design.
The building’s interior also follows a distinctly East-Asian design: the lobby is located on the 70th floor accessible by high-speed elevators, an arrangement that is much more common in Asia. I imagine Korean Air envisioned a sort of “pillow to pillow service” – picking you up in Seoul, flying you across the world and dropping you off at a hotel with spectacular views from the lobby bar!
Stalled Concept Pushed Ahead by Chinese Investment
In another $1billion venture, Shanghai-based developer Greenland Group has started construction on Metropolis, a megaproject near the Staples center. The first phase of the development, which includes a 19-story hotel and a 38-story residential tower along 9th street, started last month. These buildings are expected to open by 2016, and two additional towers (54- and 40-story) will be constructed in the second phase of the project (expected to open in about 5 years).
Like the Korean Air building, the Metropolis will have a ‘dramatic glass and steel look’. The development incorporates retail and office space that will draw activity to the area, and support the City’s aim to make downtown LA more ‘walkable’ (Greenland Group indicated that the development will create “a stronger pedestrian connection between South Park and the Financial District.”)
Metropolis is a great example of foreign investment adding momentum to Downtown LA’s redevelopment: plans for new construction at the Metropolis site were first developed in the 80′s, but previous owners were never able to get the development off the ground. The project was even featured in an LA exhibition showcasing ‘potentially game-changing designs that were Never Built‘! But, with foreign investment the stalled mega project is now on its way to becoming one of the city’s most prominent landmarks.
Not far from the Metropolis, a 4 ½ acre site commonly referred to as Fig Central, was recently purchased by Beijing-based property developer Oceanwide Real Estate Group. Plans for the development near LA Live were initially approved in 2007, but the project stalled during the economic downturn. Again, with Oceanwide’s investment, construction on the 1.5million square, multi-use development can be started.
It’s A Good Time To Be A Downtown LA Developer
To attract more investment, the city of LA has recently granted attractive tax breaks to a number of international developers. For example, Greenland USA was allowed to keep around a quarter of property and other taxes (totaling around $39million over 25 years) based on the expectation that such a major development will bring great benefits to the city once completed (Metropolis is expected to generate $117million in revenue for the City over 25 years).
The construction of these mega-structures and numerous other planned developments supported by local and foreign investors is redefining the LA Live area. Over the next year, I expect that new retail, residential and office developments (as well as LA’s burgeoning bar scene) will continue to attract people, activity and investment to the area, further adding to downtown LA’s momentum.