Grand Ave. Plan Will Be Shaped By Small Group

Staff Reporter

Eli Broad is satisfied. Now the rest of Los Angeles gets to throw in its two cents.

When the Grand Avenue Authority voted unanimously last week to enter negotiations with New York-based Related Cos., it started the process of opening up the planning of a massive redevelopment project beyond a small group of powerful civic leaders.

Two cents, however, may be the extent of the public input.

Related has put up a non-refundable $50 million deposit with the authority and started a six-month negotiation to iron out an agreement governing development of what is projected to be a $1.2 billion, 3.2 million-square-foot conglomeration of hotels, residences, offices and public spaces.

It also starts a process in which Related must begin working with community groups on design.

Because the city and county are leasing the eight acres beneath the project and are backing $300 million in revenue bonds to finance its development, the process has a level of public participation not seen in L.A. in years.

Related, which has Thom Mayne's Morphosis as its lead architect, will have to address concerns raised by community groups. Still, elected officials, city and county administrators and business representatives that make up the authority have the final say on design.

It is a process similar to one that played out most recently in the plans for reconstruction of the World Trade Center site in New York. In that emotionally charged situation, finding common ground between the demands of the community and an economically feasible proposal created a series of disputes.

Still, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Center site, it was important that the public had its say.

"It certainly extended the process," he said. "It took nearly two years to come up with a design everyone could agree on, but the fact that there was public comment made it easier for us to sell the design to the public."

Setting limits

The Grand Avenue committee, Broad said, will rein in the public comment process if it threatens the financial viability of the project.

"If you want someone to invest $900 million of their own money, you can't impose a design on them," he said. "At the end of the day we have to understand it's their money. There will be compromises along the way, but we'll end up with a great project."

Indeed, the clout exercised by the committee and the Grand Avenue Authority may speed what is by any estimation a massive undertaking already prone to delays.

"It's a very, very difficult balance," said Christopher C. Martin, chief executive of architecture firm A.C. Martin Partners Inc., part of the runner-up team headed by Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises Inc.

"You don't want it turning out like a tossed salad," he said. "It has to be linked thoughtfully and linked to all the community players. That will be a challenge for anybody. It would have been a challenge for us and it will be for Related."

Part of the challenge comes from the diverse neighborhoods that would eventually be linked by the project. Stretching from Little Tokyo and El Pueblo at the north and east, down through the government buildings of the Civic Center and the cultural sites of Bunker Hill, a wide array of constituencies will likely seek to have their voices heard in the process.

Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Central City Association and the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, said she would push for the project to contain a mix of shops and housing for a variety of income levels to make the center vibrant 24 hours a day.

"The process of getting input from the community demonstrates a real sensitivity to the community and when you create a project like this you want to be as sensitive to the community as possible," she said.

Prospect of controversy

Broad would not define the limits of the discussion, but said they would be needed in order to complete the project. That may be especially important considering the impact Mayne will have on the aesthetic of Grand Avenue.

Jon Jerde, chairman and founder of Venice Beach architecture firm Jerde Partnership, said he believed that getting disparate communities to agree on a design may be difficult, but the process will result in a better project for the city.

"Locals must get their turn in saying what they want to say, which is as it should be," he said. "If it's handled well, and (Related) is very good at making these proceed properly on time, it shouldn't get stuck in endless discussion."

Mayne, a leading L.A. architect and designer of the Caltrans building downtown, may complicate Related's plans, said Jerde, a member of a team led by J.H. Snyder Co. that was cut earlier in the review process.

"If anybody would find it difficult (to get their designs approved) it would be him," Jerde said. "His memorable moments have been done in fighting. He took it upon himself to make himself a cause celebre to create contrariness to the ways things are."

Still, said Jerde, "that contrariness can also be a positive."

"He can really get things switching and percolating. If this project will try to be some kind of slick standard (deal), he'll raise hell. If that's the case, I hope he prevails."

Neither Mayne nor officials of Related returned calls.

Broad remains a key

With Broad behind the plan, Mayne stands a better chance. The billionaire philanthropist and arts patron has shown a willingness to back cutting-edge and at times divisive architecture. He was a champion of Frank Gehry's design for the Walt Disney Concert Hall and of Rem Koolhaas' controversial plan for a new building for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

If anything, Broad has sought to ensure that the design of the project would withstand outside pressures.

While architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff criticized the Grand Avenue Committee for selecting a developer based on financial considerations over those of design and urban planning, Broad defended the process as one that protected an architect's vision.

That was one reason for the $50 million deposit.

"The fear we had was a lot of great architects would come up with great plans and great graphics and we'd then say to someone, 'Now invest a $1 billion into this,' and have them say it won't pencil out," Broad said. "We have to make it work commercially first or we won't have it at all."

He also said Related couldn't start building the more profitable retail, residential and hotel aspects of the project without commencing construction of a 16-acre park stretching from City Hall to the Music Center.

The park, a centerpiece of the Grand Avenue project, has been cast in doubt because it could possibly require the demolition of two county buildings and would include land not publicly owned. Those concerns spurred the Grand Avenue Committee and the Authority to require the park's construction to be included in Phase I of the project, Broad said.

"That we had to have," he said. "We negotiated it that way because (the park) is going to be the centerpiece of what we do. One will play off the other."

Staff Reporter Al Stewart contributed to this story.

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