In an effort to change the image of downtown Los Angeles as a place from which workers flee once the whistle blows, a plan is in the works for the creation of a special entertainment district that would revive nighttime streets and long-dormant movie theaters.
The so-called Nighttime Broadway Initiative would set up a six-block entertainment zone along Broadway between Third and Ninth streets, expediting the permitting process for bars, restaurants, nightclubs and coffee shops.
"Our plan is to get a sufficient number of entertainment uses on Broadway, so Broadway becomes the place to go in Los Angeles for entertainment," said Roger Landau, a member of the city Planning Commission, one of the minds behind the dream. "I think all Angelenos would be thrilled if we could reinvigorate the historic downtown core, particularly the movie palaces."
Landau, a bankruptcy lawyer in Century City, and his friend and land-use attorney Allan Abshez came up with the plan last summer while out at dinner and a movie with their wives.
Still early in the planning stages, the concept is to facilitate the conditional-use permitting process in the city Planning Department. By making it easier for a business owner to get an entertainment permit, Landau and Abshez are hoping to lure enterprising restaurateurs and club owners to invest in the redevelopment of upper levels of the buildings along Broadway.
"Broadway is incredibly vibrant during the day, but let's extend that vitality into the evening," said Amy Anderson, the Broadway Initiative coordinator. "Let's create an opportunity to use those upper floors."
Abshez said the zone proposal is for roughly 500,000 square feet of above-street-level space to be converted into entertainment uses. The planning team has concluded that amount of space would be reasonable considering there is a total of 6 million square feet of commercial building space in the proposed Broadway zone, and 900,000 square feet of that is ground-level space fully leased to various retail and fast food operations.
To avoid any appearance of impropriety, Mayor Richard Riordan, who appointed Landau, will not be endorsing the plan because of his ownership of The Original Pantry, a restaurant at Figueroa and Ninth streets, just a few blocks west of the proposed entertainment zone.
Landau is lobbying city Councilman Nick Pacheco, who represents the district, to support the proposal.
As of late last week, the two were planning to take a trip over the March 24-25 weekend to San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, to get a firsthand look at what Broadway could become. Other areas that Landau and Abshez envision as models for Broadway include Denver's LoDo district, San Antonio's Riverwalk and Vancouver's Gas Town.
Pacheco was not available for comment last week.
Kelli Bernard, senior representative on the Los Angeles Business Team, said the Riordan administration is working with Landau and hopes to get the proposal through the Planning Commission by the time Riordan leaves office July 1. Bernard likened the situation to the adaptive-reuse ordinance that allowed developers, without obtaining special variances, to convert their downtown commercial buildings into housing.
Anderson conceded that, by making it easier to open a business in the proposed district, undesirable or noncompliant businesses could be attracted to the area. To counter that, the plan calls for a nuisance abatement procedure that would make it just as easy to kick out those who don't play by the rules.
Standing in the way of fast-tracking approval of the proposal, Abshez said, is that an environmental impact report would first need to be performed, and appropriate nightlife proprietors would need to be identified and enticed.
"There's nothing down there now, but we don't want to create something bad," he said.
Landau said he has assembled a top-notch planning team of Los Angeles professional services firms that are putting the plan together on a pro-bono basis. Abshez is working for free, as are Gensler Architects, environmental attorneys Christopher A. Joseph & Associates and traffic and parking consulting firm Linscott, Law & Greenspan, Engineers.
That participation, which Abshez said would ultimately amount to several million dollars in free services, gives Landau reason to believe this latest effort to resuscitate downtown's after-hours life is the best chance ever.
"One of the things that makes this initiative different than every plan to come before is that none of the parties have a personal pecuniary interest in its success," Landau said. "If we can reach an agreement to create a district, we have a mechanism through this 'A Team' of professionals to get the job done."
Other factors that could possibly support establishment of the entertainment zone include the Disney Concert Hall (under construction nearby), the Staples Center arena, possible development of an entertainment/retail center and major convention hotel adjacent to Staples Center, other new hotel construction and the opening of hundreds of loft-style residential units.
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