Places like New York and Paris typically come to mind when you hear the word “fashion.” Downtown Los Angeles does, too. But the area around Los Angeles International Airport? Not so much.
That’s why Otis College of Art and Design’s decision to move its satellite campus from the downtown Fashion District has many in the industry baffled.
After operating out of the California Market Center at 110 E. Ninth St. for 20 years, Otis will move its fashion program this summer to its five-acre main campus at 9045 Lincoln Blvd. in Westchester. The consolidation at the campus just north of LAX, now in the midst of an expansion, will distance the program from the epicenter of L.A. fashion, as well as from the apartments where many of the fashion program’s roughly 150 students and 50 faculty members live.
Jaime Lee, chief executive of Jamison Realty, California Market Center landlord Jamison Services’ leasing and brokerage arm, called the move to Westchester a blow to the Fashion District.
She said she had been unable to convince the school to enter negotiations for a renewal lease at the center, where it takes up 38,000 square feet for classrooms, a library and fitting studio. It will move when its lease is up in July.
“We tried to express the importance of having them downtown with all the fashion-related brands and (the proximity to) internships within the industry,” Lee said, adding that the move will give students who have settled into apartments and internships downtown a lengthy commute to school. “Most students and faculty live downtown or on the Eastside.”
John Axtell, communications director for the college, explained that Otis is expanding its main campus, and is spending $10 million to do so, according to one published report. As a result of the bigger space, all 1,200 students can be together and share resources and ideas.
The campus expansion, which will be completed this summer, will include roughly 96,000 square feet of building construction. By the time the fashion students join the campus for the fall semester, a new 5,200-square-foot student shop will be open as well as a building with one wing for dormitories and one for classrooms. The wings will be joined by a 300-seat auditorium on the ground level.
Despite the shiny additions to the main campus and an opportunity for greater collaboration across disciplines, many think a move away from the Fashion District is a bad idea.
“I definitely think it will cripple the fashion students at Otis to be so far away from the Fashion District,” said Stephanie Collinge, a wardrobe stylist who graduated from the fashion program last year. “The Fashion District is the place in L.A. for students to get inspired by (what’s) around them, working in the fast-paced industry they aspire to be a part of.”
There are more than 4,000 fashion-related businesses in the district, which also has the largest number of fabric stores anywhere in the United States, said Kent Smith, executive director of the L.A. Fashion District Business Improvement District.
Because there is no approximation of those resources near the airport, students will continue to use the district’s resources after the move, Smith said. They will just have to travel to tap into them.
“Theater designers come here from St. Louis,” Smith said. “People come here from around the world, so they will come here from Westchester.”
Mandee Bence, a global accessories designer at New Era Cap Co. who graduated from Otis’ fashion program in 2011, said the convenience factor was important.
“If we needed fabric or supplies, we could run downstairs to the fabric district during lunch and pick them up,” she said.
But Bence said the school could have better utilized the CMC building.
“We were not involved with any of the showrooms in the (California Market Center),” she said. “We did not have access to any of the material tradeshows held there.”
Smith said he expects that many students will continue living downtown in the fall and commute to Westchester, so their supplies and internships will still be in close proximity to their homes.
With 1,500 units under construction in the Fashion District, it is becoming more residential. The 77-unit Garment Lofts, a $20 million renovation of the 1926 Capitol Garment Building at 217 E. Eighth St., recently opened.
Downtown L.A. developer Lena Group Inc.’s 10-acre City Market South project at 1057 S. San Pedro St. could radically change the district. The estimated $1 billion redevelopment would include housing, hotel rooms, creative office space, retail and – go figure – educational space specifically intended for the fashion industry. The project, which has a 25-year time line and is designed by downtown architecture firm HansonLA, submitted an environmental impact report earlier this year and is awaiting city approvals.
On the office front, Smith said an increasing number of online fashion firms are locating to the district, creating a need for creative office space.
That’s one reason that Jamison’s Lee, who saw the school’s value to the community, isn’t too concerned about the hole Otis’ departure will leave. The CMC, a 2 million-square-foot Class B office building, is roughly 90 percent leased. Its vacancy has decreased by more than 20 percentage points in the last year as Lee commenced a rebranding effort to attract creative tenants.
“Although we were honored to have the school here, this comes as a good opportunity for us … to bring a new exciting tenant to the building,” Lee said.
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