Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises Inc. has been developing large-scale mixed-use projects for decades in Eastern U.S. cities like Detroit. So it's no surprise that when mixed-use beckoned in Los Angeles, the company would be one of the first national players on the scene here and in a major way.
The $7.8 billion real estate giant has just wrapped up two major downtown residential projects, is working on two more on Wilshire Boulevard and has three major retail/residential projects in the works elsewhere in Southern California.
"While other companies have specialized in either commercial, residential or retail, as a company, we've never been frightened of mixed-use," said Brian Jones, chief executive of Forest City's western region office in Los Angeles.
Jones and Forest City Residential West president Greg Vilkin have put that approach to the test in Los Angeles, which has not traditionally been friendly to mixed-use development.
Late last year, Forest City wrapped up two landmark downtown residential projects with ground-floor retail the Metro 417 at the site of the Old Subway Terminal building on South Hill Street and the Met Lofts in South Park. Metro 417 has 277 market-rate units, while Met Lofts has 212 market-rate and 52 affordable units.
Still under construction is the 228-unit 1100 Wilshire project on downtown's West Bank. Further to the west, on the Southwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue, Forest City and partners Hampton Development and TMG Partners are converting an old office tower into 256 condos with ground floor retail.
While other regional companies such as CIM Group and Urban Partners also have mixed-use projects in Los Angeles, Forest City is the first national real estate company to enter Los Angeles in such a big way, said Larry Kosmont, a Los Angeles-based economic development consultant. "They operate way beyond the scale of local and regional companies."
Each of Forest City's Los Angeles projects is aimed at maximizing the use of the relatively small parcels found in highly urban areas. But despite Forest City's long experience with mixed-use in other cities, it hasn't been easy in Los Angeles.
"Until very recently, there hasn't been much of a mixed-use zoning code in the city of Los Angeles," Vilkin said.
The job has become somewhat simpler over the last decade with the adaptive reuse ordinance, which loosened regulations on redevelopment of old properties and which Jones called "the finest thing the city could have done to rejuvenate downtown." Vilkin also cited a recent change in city codes that has allowed residential development in some commercial corridors.
Outside L.A.'s urban core, Forest City has its sights set on redevelopment of the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach. If city officials approve, the aging 1.1 million square-foot mall would be converted into an outdoor shopping center with 500 adjacent housing units. Forest City also is developing other major retail projects with residential components.
* Best Large-Scale Developer
Forest City Enterprises Inc.
Brian Jones, chief executive, Western Region
Greg Vilkin, president, Forest City
Metro 417 (also known as "Old Subway Terminal Building"); MetLofts; 1100 Wilshire (under construction); South Bay Galleria (pending).
Quotes: "It's only now, when we've all recognized that we have to do something about sustainability and transportation beyond the car, that people are talking about densification. And that invariably means some sort of mixed-use," said Jones.
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