by Benjamin M. Reznik
Once considered an area of Los Angeles that had virtually nothing to do after 5pm, downtown Los Angeles is experiencing a development boom. Sure, part of it is due to the fact that our regional economy is on an upswing. But it’s more than that – what we’re now seeing is an entire section of Los Angeles undergoing an incredible transformation that’s changing the minds of the most hardened skeptics.
New residential, mixed-use, office, and hotel projects make up nearly 100 active development projects in the downtown area, with 14 projects alone announced since May of 2014, according to the Downtown News. My firm and I are proud to be part of this boom firsthand. JMBM is working on behalf of a major hotel project in the area, which will also include condominiums and retail space, on the site of the current Luxe City Center across from LA Live and Staples Center.
So, what accounts for downtown Los Angeles’ new-found appeal?
One, the City of Los Angeles’s Adaptive Reuse Ordinance fast-tracks the development process for those projects that re-imagined existing historic structures. First put into place in downtown Los Angeles, and now in force throughout the City, we’re now finally seeing the results. As we see more residential and commercial projects changing the face of downtown, we’re seeing the creation of vibrant neighborhoods and a solid tax base to create a strong foundation for Los Angeles for decades to come.
Second, there’s been a generational shift, and there are more people who prefer living in areas like downtown than in outlying areas further from the city center. Younger residents – many of whom have come to live downtown seeking a neighborhood where they can live near their work – are more likely to use public transit rather than their cars. It’s also very desirable to live in a walkable community amid major downtown attractions like to Disney Concert Hall, LA Live, and a burgeoning restaurant scene that is receiving national and international recognition.
Third, those who provide the capital for major development projects believe in downtown Los Angeles’ potential for additional growth, and firms that once sat on the sidelines are in the downtown real estate game. As the Los Angeles Times’ Roger Vincent recently noted in his recent piece on the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles, downtown real estate is so hot that once-skeptical New York-based investment firms have increased their investment in the area by 23%.
Private investment is important – and it should also be noted that public investment is playing a role as well. From a streetcar plan for Broadway, to a revitalization of the Figueroa corridor, and the construction of a $1.42 billion regional connector that will streamline local transit, major infrastructure investment is already creating fertile ground in downtown Los Angeles for future growth.
Finally, it seems as though local government is realizing the power of enabling development and spurring much-needed regional economic activity instead of standing in the way. Just last month, the City of Los Angeles changed a 40 year-old rule mandating that high-rises have flat roofs to accommodate helipads. Though it was cited as part of an effort to modernize city rules and regulations, its impact will allow for more innovative designs and more creative projects coming online for years to come. With this 40 year-old design constraint becoming a thing of the past, and strong investment and infrastructure boosting development prospects, downtown Los Angeles’ real estate market is, now more than ever, ready for take off.
Ben Reznik is the Chair of JMBM’s Government, Land Use, Environment and Energy Department. His practice emphasizes real estate development entitlements, zoning and environment issues, including frequent appearances before city planning commissions, city councils and other governmental boards and agencies on behalf of real estate development firms and various industries. Reach him at BMR@JMBM.com or 310. 201.3572.