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LA Downtown News: “South Park’s Billions Bring Potential, and Potential Problems”

Posted: Monday, April 27, 2015 5:00 am

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – South Park is one of the hottest neighborhoods for investment not just in Downtown, not just in Los Angeles, but across the United States. Construction is happening throughout the community. Everything from mid-rise apartment buildings to hotels to billion-dollar mega-projects are rising.

This is a very good thing for South Park and greater Downtown, though it also means there is a lot to think about. The activity requires preparing for future needs, such as providing adequate parking and public space, and making sure there is appropriate mass transit and bicycle infrastructure. To make that and more happen, developers must take steps, or be persuaded to take steps, that have impacts beyond their projects. It also means that city leaders should be involved in the process and should work to ensure that there is an overall plan.

Some people are paying attention to the growth of the community, and the South Park Business Improvement District does a very good job of representing the area and helping position it for the future. However, given this historic moment, with literally billions of dollars pouring into this community, we think that officials from the offices of Mayor Eric Garcetti, 14th District City Councilman José Huizar and Ninth District Councilman Curren Price should also get involved and treat this as a priority. They should work together to ensure that city staff seize a rare opportunity to propel a neighborhood forward, and realize some needed community benefits directly related to all the new development.

South Park is different than any other market because of the three mega-developments from off-shore companies. Los Angeles Downtown News last week wrote about the plans that Shenzhen Hazens has for the site of the Luxe City Center Hotel and an adjacent parking lot. The $700 million project will ultimately include three towers (30-42 stories tall), which will produce a hotel and 650 condominiums.

Just to the south, on a plot across from Staples Center, Beijing-based Oceanwide Real Estate Group is working on Oceanwide Plaza, which will create another three skyscrapers (40-49 stories) with 504 housing units and 183 hotel rooms.

Then there is the $1 billion Metropolis, from Shanghai’s Greenland Group. The project, north of L.A. Live and along the 110 Freeway, is under construction, and the first phase will produce an 18-story hotel and a 38-floor condominium tower with 300 residences. Phase two would bring a pair of high-rises, standing 54 and 40 stories tall, with a total of 1,250 condominiums.

Together, that is 10 towers, creating 2,700 housing units — most if not all for-sale — and two hotels.

Not to be overlooked is retail: Plans call for Shenzhen Hazens’ Luxe development to have 80,000 square feet of retail space, while Oceanwide Plaza will include 167,000 square feet of shops and restaurants. The Metropolis will also have a retail and dining component.

While these projects represent a massive addition to South Park, they are only a portion of what is coming. San Francisco-based Trumark Urban this year broke ground on Ten50, a $100 million, 22-story condominium building at 11th Street and Grand Avenue that will have 151 residences. Nearby, Mack Urban is in construction on a pair of seven-story buildings that will deliver 362 apartments. Mack Urban also has future-phase components: a 38-story tower at Grand Avenue and 12th Street with 530 apartments, and a 12-floor rental building at Olive and 12th streets with 150 residences.

Even this isn’t the end of the lineup: Houston-based Hanover Company recently opened the 284-apartment Hanover South Park and has two other projects, with 537 total rental units, slated to arrive in 2016. Canadian developer Onni Group, meanwhile, intends to build 31- and 40-story housing towers at 1200 S. Flower St., creating 730 residences.

Yet more projects are planned, but at this point, the picture is clear.

The projects, if all are realized (which is no sure thing), could bring more than 5,500 apartments and condominiums to South Park. Again, this is great, but it sparks questions: Are there enough jobs in the community so that people who move here don’t have to climb into the car to get to work? If the answer is no, then traffic is an issue. It can already be difficult to drive in South Park when there are games or concerts at Staples Center or L.A. Live. How can congestion be eased when the housing and retail at Oceanwide Plaza and the Luxe site open? What happens when huge business gatherings take place at the Convention Center?

The developers are a mix of local, national and international firms, and they may have little in common beyond seeing the opportunity to make a financial killing in South Park. That is also why the city needs to help them understand that each of them has a duty to improve the entire community. There is no longer a redevelopment agency that can enforce standards, so someone else has to do it.

There are numerous places where this could come into play. The Pico Metro Blue Line station, for instance, is seriously lacking in appeal, and though there once were plans for an upgrade tied to the Farmers Field project, the stadium proposal’s death means the station may stagnate. City leaders should look at urging area stakeholders to help improve the station, or having funds for an upgrade be part of the community benefits packages of coming projects.

It is a similar situation with parks and public space. The creation of thousands of housing units will mean the arrival of families, and South Park is short of outdoor areas where kids can play. Local leaders should either look for a place where land could be purchased and a park could rise (that may be difficult), or they should see what can be done to propel the creation of public pocket parks at new buildings.

Walking and biking need to be prioritized as South Park booms. The new housing developments should have ample bike parking, and the shopping centers should contain secure space for scores of two-wheelers — again, the developers must make it easy for Downtown and other residents to leave their car at home.

Then there are streetscape issues. For example, the Oceanwide and Shenzhen Hazens projects will both front Figueroa Street. However, it is imperative that the developers not treat the Flower Street portion of the projects as a forgotten backside. The Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee has raised this issue, and Oceanwide has pledged to integrate Flower Street into its project. We’re glad to hear this, but it can’t be an empty promise.

Plenty of other issues remain. There need to be plans for visitor parking in South Park, whether in a new structure, or set aside in portions of the coming projects. Additionally, the arrival of thousands of inhabitants raises concerns over demands on infrastructure.

The activity and investment in South Park will position the neighborhood for a vibrant future, but success can’t be taken for granted. The developers need to talk and work together, and city officials must lead. The time to act is now.