Is L.A.'s tallest residential tower about to rise up from a lot near the U.S. Bank Tower, the tallest building west of the Mississippi?

If developer David Houk has his way, it will.

Houk is proposing to build one of the highest condominium towers in the world at the site of a parking lot just east of the 73-story bank tower and while such proposals are often viewed with skepticism, downtown real estate observers are hopeful.

Dubbed Park Fifth, the project next to Pershing Square would be anywhere from 71 to 76 stories with 750 condominiums, depending on how the finances finally pencil out. Plans also call for an adjacent 41-story high-rise with a 234-room luxury hotel on the first 15 floors of the building at the nearly half-block site.

The developer's Houk Development Co. would build the project a total of 2.75 million square feet in a joint venture with Namco Capital Group Inc. and Africa Israel Investments Ltd.

"Like every significant high rise you assume and hope they go forward and there are no guarantees, we know that," said Carol Schatz, president of the Central City Association. "We are hopeful this will go forward."

This isn't the first time Houk has proposed building on the nearly 99,000-square-foot parcel at 433 W. Fifth St., which he has owned for well over a decade. In the early 1990s he received city approval to build a similarly sized office tower, but that project never materialized when the downtown office market collapsed amid a deep recession.

In the last few years, however, the downtown condominium market has exploded with an assortment of high-rises many of which are in the 20- to 30-story range. And there are larger proposals, such as Titan Organization Inc.'s South Park project that would include 60- and 49-story residential buildings. Titan has closed escrow on the property on Olympic Boulevard and Grand Avenue and hopes to break ground next year.

However, as the housing market slows and thousands of condominium units come on line specifically in the downtown, some developers are pulling back. Developer Sonny Astani, for example, has said he is shelving plans for one of two high-rise towers.

Still, Houk wants to move forward aggressively with his project and has told the Los Angeles Downtown News that he hopes to start construction in October and complete the project by 2010, by which time he expects the condominium market will have improved.

Ezri Namvar, chairman of Los Angeles-based Namco Capital Group, a project investor, said he has no doubt the towers will be built.

"We obviously believe in it and we think downtown is going to be even more vibrant than before especially in that part of town," said Namvar, whose company recently bought the Los Angeles Marriott Downtown for $115 million.

Representatives for Africa Israel of Tel Aviv, Israel, did not return calls seeking comment.

Aggressive timeline

It's not clear, though, whether Houk will be able to keep up with his own timeline. Lillian Burkenheim, the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles project manager for the development, said that the property is entitled for a "mixed-use office building" but needs new entitlements for the proposed residential units.

The CRA will hold a scoping meeting this week to discuss the project's forthcoming environmental impact report.

A spokesperson for Houk declined to comment, except to say that "we are preparing to share details of the project shortly."

According to environmental planning documents filed with the CRA, Houk's taller tower would include six levels of below-grade parking and 40,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and meeting space. The tower would be up to 890 feet tall. The world's tallest residential building is in Australia; the Q1 Tower is 1,059 feet tall.

Houk, who owns downtown's Variety Arts Center at 940 S. Figueroa St., appears to have quietly been doing his homework for the project. Last year, Houk met with Schatz and Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes the development area, to discuss the project.

Perry said she is withholding judgment on the project as it undergoes city review. "The true test is as it goes through the public process of seeking entitlements that sort of defines what it is going to be," she said.

Longtime downtown real estate broker Mark Tarczynski thinks the odds are in favor of Houk this time around.

"It's consistent with the CRA's vision and the mayor's and City Council's for downtown L.A. Africa Israel and Ezri Namvar are very solid guys," said Tarczynski, a senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis Group Inc.

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