Tom Gilmore

Born: New York City, 1953
Position: Chief executive, Tom Gilmore and Associates LLC
Accomplishments: Turned buildings in the Old Bank District into mixed-use development for residential and commercial use, including the former seat of Los Angeles Archdiocese
Quote: "I saw the benefit of what happens when the city acts in a pro-active manner. We will clear the road to make this happen again."

Tom Gilmore has fond memories of sitting down in Mayor Richard Riordan's office a decade ago and pounding out a little known city ordinance on adaptive reuse.

The idea was to save dilapidated, run-down buildings and "re-use" them, either with new stores or residential units. The ordinance lowered costs and expedited the approval process for such conversions by amending fire, parking and other laws.

"Back in 1997 and 1998, if you were going to try and do housing in what used to be a commercial building, you had to go through a long and torturous process of having that building rezoned," recalled Gilmore.

With the support of the mayor's office and the Central City Association, Gilmore was one of the first developers to hit the street, taking four buildings at Fourth and Main streets about 600,000 square feet in total and converting them from vacant buildings into new lofts.

Still, he had to borrow $29 million and convince a skeptical audience of academics, economists and politicians that downtown L.A. should be unique and could have a livable core. He was successful and his actions have helped urban developers secure low-interest loans and grants from the government since. "The first ones were rentals. Now, we're doing condos," he said, noting property values that were once $5 to $11 per square foot have skyrocketed to $120 per square foot even for vacant buildings.

Gilmore created neighborhood change in the Old Bank District though mixed-use development. Once home to dilapidated commercial buildings, it now has 230 residential units in the converted San Fernando, Hellman and Continental buildings. It also has restaurants, clothing stores and a grocery in the same buildings with the residents.

Other developers have followed in Gilmore's wake. Santa Monica's MJW Investments Inc.'s Santee Village project with hundreds of lofts and nearly 40,000 square feet of retail space. In downtown Los Angeles, more than 10,000 residential units are expected to come online in the next three to five years.

"Tom Gilmore was the first developer to make use of the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance and he's continuing to add to his portfolio," said Carol Schatz, chief executive of the Central City Association, a leading downtown business group. "What he did was extremely important because we hoped that the ordinance would have an impact and create a market for developers and he was the first."

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