Back in the 1980s, when Downtown Los Angeles had an earlier go-round with redevelopment, Central City West was envisioned for more of the gleaming skyscrapers that dominate the neighboring Central Business District.


But the recession of the early 1990s stopped those plans in their tracks.


Then the district's largest landowner, the Los Angeles Unified School District, tried to build a model school the Belmont Learning Complex. It was infamously stopped by controversies over methane gas and earthquake faults.


Finally, both the LAUSD and the broader Central City West neighborhood are on the rebound. The area, separated from the rest of downtown by the Pasadena (110) Freeway, is filling with new schools and luxury apartments. The former Unocal Corp. headquarters has become Los Angeles Center Studios, adding to the anchoring presence of Good Samaritan Hospital, another large landowner in the district.


Already the School District has built the Gratts Elementary School, teaming up with an affordable housing developer to add both the school and residences where low-rise buildings stood.


Under construction are a renamed Belmont Learning Complex (now Vista Hermosa), a business magnet high school, and Central Area High School No. 10. The district also bought its current headquarters building on Beaudry Avenue several years ago.


Ron Bagel, LAUSD's director of real estate, said the district is trying to respond to the number of children living in the neighborhood who have to be bused to far-off schools. "If there are children there, then there needs to be a neighborhood school to serve them," he said.


Meanwhile, developer Geoff Palmer's G.H. Palmer Associates has made the neighborhood into a residential heart of downtown by building 1,351 apartment units in four projects: the 198-unit Skyline Terrace, the 225-unit Piero, and the 632-unit Medici. (He also built the nearby Orsini, with 296 units.)


Palmer has another 297-unit apartment building, the Visconti, under construction, with completion expected by Spring 2006. The ornate apartments rent from $1,500 to more than $2,000. All told, Palmer has more than 12 acres of land, according to a survey conducted for the Business Journal by CB Richard Ellis Inc.


Other developers are following Palmer's lead. Forest City Enterprises Inc. is in the process of converting a former office building at 1100 Wilshire Blvd. into 230 condos and developers are also seeking approvals to convert the former SBC offices at 1010 Wilshire Blvd. into condos as well.

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