Despite its name, the Arts District is not actually home to many artists.

Rapidly rising rents for live-work loft space in the downtown district have priced many out of the market, forcing them to leave for cheaper submarkets such as Inglewood.

A proposal floated by a pair of local developers, however, aims to bring artists back – or at least as a close as economics will allow. Ramin Bijari and Shalom Aynesazan have submitted plans to the Los Angeles Planning Department to convert a nearly 40,000-square-foot warehouse on 25th Street into 49 artist-in-residence units that would rent for between $1,500 and $2,000 a month. The site, at 2145-2171 E. 25th, is at the southern border of Los Angeles, where it meets the industrial city of Vernon.

Bijari and Aynesazan purchased the complex in 2014 for about $5.3 million, according to records from real estate data provider CoStar, and plan to complete the project in 18 to 24 months.

“We’re hoping we can give them more affordable (rent) than the Arts District, which became very expensive,” said Aynesazan, owner of South L.A. textile importer Textillary Inc. “We are trying to make a good environment for the artists.”

Units at the neighboring Santa Fe Art Colony, just north of the planned loft site, range from $700 to $3,500 depending on the size. The average rent for 1,250 square feet of space at that property is $1,000, according to Sylvia Tidwell, an artist and head of the Colony’s Tenants Association.

“We are the last clump of actual artists in the Arts District as I understand it,” she said.

According to CoStar, the average square-foot asking rent for an apartment in the Arts District rose to $2.67 in the fourth quarter of last year from $1.65 in the fourth quarter of 2011 – an increase of 62 percent over five years.

Meeting demand

“There’s a demand for this – to retain artists in Los Angeles, in our urban core,” Mark Borman, co-founder of Borman Group, which has developed live-work units in the Arts District, said of Bijari and Aynesazan’s project.

Scott Lane, who has developed artist studios in Inglewood, said artists are becoming increasingly priced out of the live-work rental market.

“As the market gets more and more expensive, it’s a whole different profile of a customer,” he said.

The lack of affordable units has driven many artists to live in unpermitted or otherwise illegal residences, Tidwell said.

“The zoning hasn’t kept up with realities of how many people live and work,” she said. “If an artist looks for space, they might look for a storefront space or other industrial space not zoned for live-work and live there surreptitiously.”

The danger of using unpermitted spaces was highlighted in December when 36 people died in a fire that consumed an Oakland warehouse, dubbed the Ghost Ship, where artists lived illegally.

Bijari and Aynesazan are seeking to expand on the artist community at the Colony next door, which was established strictly for fine artists in 1987 with partial funding of $1.2 million from the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency. In fact, Aynesazan said he got the idea to renovate the warehouse into live-work space after talking to artists at the Colony.

The proposed conversion would include a large yard, new plumbing and air conditioning, as well as electricity provided by solar panels on the roof. Electric vehicle charging stations would also be installed in the parking lot.

“We are hoping to have nightlife as well,” said Aynesazan. “They can throw art parties or shows.”

However, the Colony’s residents could soon be in the hunt for new apartments themselves.

Tidwell said residents there are worried about being priced out of their units due to an impending expiration of a 30-year-old building-specific restriction that put a cap on how much rent they would pay. The Colony tenants have launched a campaign to maintain their rent-restrictive status, which is due to expire in October. They are also trying to keep the units strictly reserved for fine artists, a rule also due to expire in October.

The 25th Street site is zoned for manufacturing, and the city will be weighing the demand for artist lofts against a desire to preserve manufacturing districts and jobs.

The conversion plans were submitted to the Planning Department last month, but no hearing date has yet been set.

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