New Chinese owners are set to break ground on a sprawling hotel and residential complex that's expected to alter L.A.'s skyline and cement a growing Asian footprint in downtown Los Angeles.
Moving at a pace rare in Southern California development, owner Greenland Group of Shanghai vowed Friday to start work shortly on the first phase of a $1-billion project that will be constructed on a vast parking lot along the Harbor Freeway just north of Staples Center and LA Live.
Known as Metropolis Los Angeles, the development will feature a 38-story residential skyscraper and a four-star luxury hotel. Greenland unveiled the plans at a lavish ceremony for local dignitaries that featured dragon dancers, gongs and champagne.
This is the first U.S. project of Greenland, one of China's largest developers. But it's part of a larger wave of international investment pouring into Southern California, especially downtown L.A.
Just a few blocks away from Metropolis, Korean Air is spending $1 billion to build the Wilshire Grand hotel and office tower, which will be the tallest building west of the Mississippi.
On Saturday, more than 2,000 truckloads of concrete will be pumped into the project's foundation at Figueroa Street and Wilshire Boulevard in what is being touted as the world's largest continuous concrete pour.
In late December, another big Chinese developer, Oceanwide Real Estate Group, bought a sprawling parking lot east of Staples Center, where it plans to build a five-star hotel, apartments and stores.
Last year, Singapore investor Overseas Union Enterprise Ltd. purchased what is now downtown's tallest building, US Bank Tower, for $367.5 million.
The gusher of investment underscores Asian investors' growing familiarity with Los Angeles and its large Asian population and prime location on the Pacific Rim. Some of China's largest developers have been looking for large-scale commercial projects in so-called gateway cities on the U.S. East and West coasts.
"They feel very comfortable doing business here and they have been increasing investments here significantly in the last few years," said Chief Executive Bill Allen of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., which has been courting Asian investors to the region.
"China is our largest trading partner, and investment follows trade," he said "There is a whole pipeline of investors" moving toward Los Angeles.
The buildings in the first phase of Metropolis are slated to open by 2016. Greenland Group is already pressing the city to grant approvals for the second phase, which is expected to include condos and retail shops.
"Greenland ... is pleased to join the downtown Los Angeles community and to make one of the largest investments in downtown in recent history," said Ifei Chang, chief executive of Greenland USA, a subsidiary of Greenland Group.
Last month Greenland paid nearly $150 million for the 6.3-acre Metropolis site. That's a huge sum for a parking lot. But it's in a prime location and had already secured city approvals for large-scale commercial development.
Previous owners of the property located between Eighth and Ninth streets got the go-ahead from City Hall for 1.65-million square feet of hotel, condominium, office and retail development on a block that links the financial district with LA Live and Staples Center.
Designed by architecture firm Gensler, the hotel is expected to be 19 stories tall with 350 rooms. The operator was not announced, but people familiar with the project expect it will be a Hotel Indigo. Indigo is a boutique brand operated by InterContinental Hotels Group.
The residential tower is anticipated to be 38 stories high. Greenland did not say whether the residences will be apartments or condominiums.
But New York residential real estate brokerage Douglas Elliman Development Marketing has been contracted to sell condo units, according to President Horacio LeDon.
Greenland's design for Metropolis was unveiled at a ceremonial groundbreaking Friday where public and private officials gathered in a large white tent on the site with media from the U.S. and Asia.
Speeches celebrating Chinese-U.S. business ties were translated back and forth in English and Chinese. Speakers showered praise on Greenland Group Chairman Yuliang Zhang and Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, who helped speed city approvals for the project.
But the moment belonged to Ifei Chang, the woman who heads Greenland's U.S. operations. She made sure that the Metropolis sale fell on Chinese New Year — a good omen in Chinese culture — and that groundbreaking ceremonies took place on Valentine's Day, which happens to coincide with China's Lantern Festival this year.
Chang gamely donned a florescent safety vest and perched a hard hat at an angle on her head to join other dignitaries in tossing a spadefuls of dirt for photographers. But most of the time she was busy overseeing details of the event.
She has already moved to downtown Los Angeles. Huizar praised her "impatience" to get the project moving.
"You showed us how quickly things can get done," he said.
Greenland Group was formed in 1992 to build green belts around Shanghai and has evolved into a Fortune Global 500 company with major developments in Sydney, Australia; London; and Seoul. In December, Greenland agreed to become the majority owner-developer of the $4-billion Atlantic Yards residential complex planned in Brooklyn, N.Y.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times