Los Angeles County broke tourism records in 2014, welcoming more than 43 million visitors who helped stimulate the local economy. Tourists not only came to see the county’s iconic landmarks, they came because travel has become easier and more affordable for people from around the world. Los Angeles is now more accessible than ever before, and it’s the perfect time to make a strong impression on our visitors.
While current city leaders have helped boost L.A.’s tourism industry, our city has historically lacked some of the crucial features that global cities provide to draw tourists. Los Angeles can only be ranked as a world-class travel destination if we begin taking a wholesale approach to lifting our tourism economy. Downtown Los Angeles specifically has long been full of unique attractions as well as new noteworthy projects that are in the making, but a smart, interconnected design would increase the profitability of every project there.
Take the expansion of the Los Angeles Convention Center, which will soon make the facility one of the largest convention centers in the country. This will likely be a fantastic economic stimulator – the San Diego Convention Center raked in an enormous $1.3 billion last year, and L.A.’s Convention Center is similarly positioned to bring revenue and tourists to Southern California. We can be proud that Los Angeles is finally upgrading to a world-class convention center, but we also need to think about how we can make it a runaway success.
One way to do so is to bring the best attractions to Los Angeles. It was recently announced that Comic-Con International, the four-day event typically hosted in San Diego, might seek out a new home in Southern California. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times noted that L.A.’s newly improved Convention Center would be well-suited to host Comic-Con’s 1.8 million people, but a lack of nearby hotel space complicates this plan.
Mayor Eric Garcetti already has set a goal of adding 5,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the Convention Center by 2020, which will help Los Angeles send a signal to big projects that the city will be able to support the visitors they can bring to a region. But we can do more to make developers more excited to come to downtown.
For one, we can continue welcoming international investors, who have made billions of dollars in local investments in recent years as the real estate market has improved. Chinese and South Korean businesses have both helped finance major hotels and establish companies locally, and the number of visitors to Los Angeles from those regions has quadrupled and risen 7 percent, respectively.
As our profile with international tourists rises, Los Angeles has a unique opportunity in the next few years to exceed the global standard for luxury, entertainment and innovation. We’re already seeing new shopping centers, iconic hotels and residential spaces being planned with the support of international partners, and we can continue along this path to bring world-class spaces to Los Angeles.
The building renaissance that is washing over downtown does not need to pave over our cultural roots, however. AC Martin, of which I am president, has been building in downtown for years, and many of our historic projects were made to preserve L.A.’s past. We can and should protect this sense of history and community, but to look after today’s local citizens, we need to recognize where there is room to grow in the future.
New projects that come here should be thinking about connectivity and sustainability, and how we can bring synergy to the entire region. In helping to design the new Wilshire Grand hotel, AC Martin aims not only to make a world-class destination but to transform the surrounding environment with better transit solutions, pedestrian walkways and resource management. That’s the goal behind 7th Street Improvement Transit as well, because we know that if Los Angeles is better connected, its local economy will be better off.
Like the Wilshire Grand, 7th Street Improvement Transit and a number of mixed-use projects, the new Convention Center should aim to raise the tide for all boats in the area. Los Angeles needs building solutions that are integrated within the region and that can become part of, not addendums to, downtown. With smart, interconnected design, we can encourage new projects to migrate here and support further development for years to come.
Robert Newsom is president of AC Martin, an architecture and planning firm headquartered in downtown Los Angeles.
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