The construction of the new sports arena in downtown Los Angeles may act as a catalyst for an even larger ambition: the development of Figueroa Street as a entertainment-oriented shopping street.
As part of the proposed arena deal, developers Ed Roski Jr. and Philip Anschutz have called for the development of major retail spaces on Figueroa.
The arena deal would give the partners the right to develop the street frontage on the west side of Figueroa from 11th Street to Olympic Boulevard, and the east-side frontage between Pico Boulevard and the Holiday Inn at Olympic and Figueroa.
Even before the arena announcement, in fact, stakeholders and major businesses along the corridor have been working on a blueprint for the future development of the stretch of Figueroa between the University of Southern California to the south and the downtown financial district to the north.
In 1995, the Central City Association, which represents the interests of downtown businesses, assembled the Figueroa Corridor Committee, whose job it was to develop a plan that would make a stronger connection between the USC area and the financial district. A grant from the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency helped fund reports from consultants.
Figueroa is "the major entranceway into the heart of downtown, and links together what we think of as the southern part of downtown USC and Expo Park to the financial core," said Carol Schatz, president of the Central City Association. Prior to the arena project, she added, the plan concentrated on landscaping and traffic issues to "make it a more pedestrian-friendly environment."
Even those limited ambitions seemed far off, however, until recent months, when the arena developers proposed a pedestrian-oriented shopping district surrounding the planned arena.
John Semcken, vice president of the arena development partnership known as L.A. Arena Development Co. LLC, said that the model for the L.A. arena would be downtown stadiums such as those in Denver, Phoenix, Cleveland and Baltimore. Those stadiums, he said, have been praised for promoting pedestrian activity in aging downtown areas, and benefitting local businesses through increased foot traffic.
"We are not going to build a stand-alone facility. We have designed this building to help invigorate the Figueroa Corridor and get visitors to enter the area on their feet," Semcken said.
It takes a good deal of imagination to envision something like Universal Citywalk or Old Pasadena on Figueroa Street. In the USC area, much of the corridor is taken up with parking lots and auto dealerships.
In fact, it is the under-developed character of Figueroa that makes the corridor the logical place to create a pedestrian- oriented shopping and entertainment street, according to Don Spivack, CRA deputy administrator.
"Figueroa has the highest concentration of major development sites" in the downtown area, he said. The street, he added, has the "development potential from Ninth Street to the Convention Center for several hotels and office buildings," as well as sports, entertainment and retail facilities.
Two different consultants have contributed to the Figueroa Corridor plan: Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership has prepared some basic design guidelines, while the firm of Kosmont & Associates has put together an economic analysis. Currently in draft form, the final version of the Figueroa Corridor Plan is expected by year's end.
The economic analysis breaks down the Figueroa Corridor into a number of different neighborhoods, including "USC Place," including the university, Exposition Park and the Coliseum; the West Adams District; the Downtown "Events Center" anchored by the convention center and arena; the Downtown Services District south of the financial center, and the financial district.
The challenge is to integrate these very different areas, according to David Rodriguez, a senior vice president at Kosmont. "If you look at the character of the financial district in comparison with the neighborhood just north of Vernon (Avenue,) you have completely different worlds, with completely different needs, and completely different economic conditions," he said.
By tying these areas together, Rodriguez added, "you get more economic traffic between the different districts."
The problem with Figueroa, according to the Kosmont analysis, is that the area inspires "single-purpose trips," such as attending events at the Convention Center or the Coliseum or Exposition Park.
The vision of the Figueroa Corridor, says Rodriguez, is to encourage longer visits in the area, in which people undertake several activities, such as having a meal or shopping in addition to a visit to the Convention Center or the museums in Exposition Park.
"If you provide better connections among the different parts of the corridor, and provide more reason to come earlier and leave later, then you can promote economic development," Rodriguez said.
One big believer is David Tarczynski, a retail real estate broker with the downtown office of CB Commercial Real Estate Group. He predicted that the sports arena will "create huge retail demand," pointing out that the developers expect the arena to be filled 265 nights a year with concerts and sporting events. He predicted that large, entertainment-related tenants like Planet Hollywood and other "mega-theme restaurants" will lease buildings on Figueroa.
Seventh Market Place, the beleaguered regional mall on the northeast corner of Figueroa and Seventh Street, also stands to benefit, according to Michael Escalante, senior vice president of Trizec Hahn Office Properties.
"We sit on the portal of the Metro Rail's Figueroa station, and there will be synergies with that system, as people arrive at the station and walk to the arena," Escalante said.
The mall's new owners a joint venture of Chicago-based Trizec Hahn and The Whitehall Fund of Dallas plan to take advantage of the mall's strategic position by locating more pedestrian-oriented businesses on the street, including a restaurant with some outdoor seating on the corner of Seventh and Figueroa, as well as retail kiosks and carts along the Figueroa street-front.
Tarczynski said he expected to be spending an increasing amount of his time bringing retail tenants to Figueroa Street. "This is the next 10 years of my life," he said.
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