The retail landscape in downtown Los Angeles is changing quickly. At the pace retailers are opening shops these days, the area in a few years could be the kind of mature, vibrant shopping destination befitting the center of the second-largest city in the country.
“I think there will be significantly more retail downtown in five years,” said Ed Hogan, national director of retail leasing for Brookfield Office Properties, a commercial real estate company out of Washington, D.C., that owns the Figat7th shopping center and a big chunk of the Class A office stock in downtown.
But in car-centric Los Angeles, at least one potential hurdle might stand in the way for developers, retailers and restaurateurs: parking.
Even as office, residential and retail projects have sprouted up all around downtown, parking lots have begun disappearing, snapped up by developers who have dense projects in mind. And in Los Angeles, where the car is by far the preferred mode of transportation, fewer options for parking might mean fewer customers willing to see the burgeoning area as a shopping destination.
Developers are required to provide a certain number of spots for retail tenants and their customers, but some wonder whether those requirements are enough given the density of the area. Downtown already has few affordable places for the public to park.
Current city parking regulations require retail properties to have four parking spots for every 1,000 square feet, twice the requirement for office space. That means the 400,000-square-foot retail component of the Bloc, for example, a redevelopment project by downtown L.A. developer Ratkovich Co., will need at least 1,600 parking spots. Restaurants, coffee shops, bars and nightclubs require even more – at least 10 spots for every 1,000 square feet.
Exceptions can be made. Developers who build near mass transit are excused in part from providing as many parking spots under the assumption that a portion of visitors to the property will not come by car.
Brian Cornelius, vice president of development at Ratkovich, said that the Bloc, which, in addition to its retail and entertainment space, also will include a 700,000-square-foot office tower and a 478-room hotel, will have about 1,900 parking spots. The $180 million redevelopment project benefits from being less than a block from the Seventh Street Metro Center station.
Derrick Moore, a principal in the downtown office of real estate brokerage Avison Young, said that for retailers interested in moving into ground-level spaces in existing, outdated buildings, of which there are many in downtown, fulfilling such parking requirements might be more challenging.
“Parking is definitely more of a problem for street-front retail and, unfortunately, those are the spaces that are most in demand downtown, because of the visibility they provide and opportunities for branding,” he said.
Brian Kite, a principal at downtown’s SRK Architects Inc., said he can foresee parking being a problem for retail in downtown, at least until extensions to the subway system are complete. The strategy of allowing developers to reduce provided parking spaces before the mass-transit system is fully operational could exacerbate the problem.
“Part of the problem is that parking is what makes retail work,” he said. “But the downtown that is emerging with linkages to mass transit will make parking less and less a problem. The extension of the Expo and Purple lines will make a huge difference.”
Brookfield’s Hogan said the solution should be simple enough. It shouldn’t be up to developers to provide the necessary parking for downtown, but rather the responsibility should fall on local government.
“In order to have successful retail in Los Angeles, you have to answer the car question,” he said. “The city could come in and create some parking structures that would really help spur development in the historic core. I think without someone taking the lead on that and really solving that problem, there are a lot of missed opportunities for that neighborhood.”
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