Workmen torched a hole in the roof of the former Macy's Plaza in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday as part of an ambitious $180-million makeover aiming to transform the fortress-like mall into an outdoor plaza.
The massive mall, now known as the Bloc, fills a city block at the busy intersection of 7th and Flower streets. The project was hailed as a crowning achievement when completed in the early 1970s, and for years remained a prime business center and tourist attraction.
In addition to a department store and shops, the center originally known as Broadway Plaza has always had a 32-story office building and a high-rise hotel. In keeping with 20th century urban planning theories, however, most of the complex was originally sealed off from the outside world behind high brick walls and concrete.
With downtown L.A. experiencing a revival of its street life as thousands of new residents pour in, developer Wayne Ratkovich decided to tear off the roof and breach the walls. Stores and restaurants will replace bare brick along city sidewalks. The glass-and-metal atrium roof will disappear over the next three weeks to make way for a sunken, sunlight-filled public plaza that will have its own subway entrance.
The pedestrian passageway linking the Bloc to 7th Street/Metro Center Station will be the Metro's first direct underground connection of a subway station to a private development, according to Marie Sullivan, a transportation planner for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Work is set to be complete in November on what is one of the largest mixed-use developments underway in Los Angeles. At a ceremony marking the removal of the roof and the giant Macy's sign over the front entrance, Ratkovich said opening the center would help enliven local streets and sidewalks.
"We're not only ushering in a new wave of physical and cultural change at the Bloc, but also within the larger urban fabric of the vibrant downtown community," he said.
He also announced some new retail tenants for the Bloc, including the first outpost in the West of Davio's, an upscale northern Italian-style steak and seafood chain based in Boston. Other new entries include dessert makers Popbar and N'ice Cream, and TLT Food, a casual American-style eatery that evolved from a food truck.
Another big new tenant, announced previously, is Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, an Austin, Texas-based chain that serves beer and food in movie theaters showing a mix of first-run and independent films. The complex in the Bloc will have nine screens and seat about 800.
Macy's will remain the anchor store of the mall, after conducting its own upgrade to what it calls a "flagship" location.
The Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel in the Bloc is upgrading all 496 guest rooms and suites as well as the hotel lobby and all of its ballrooms and meeting rooms. The hotel's outdoor areas will be made over to have lounge space, cabanas and a rock garden.
Ratkovich hopes the office building, which suffered from a lack of tenants for many years, will become appealing to businesses in creative fields. Among recently signed tenants are the headquarters of Nordstromrack.com and the company's online flash sale site HauteLook.
Communications firm Golin will rent an entire 24,000-square-foot floor of office space.
Ratkovich previously renovated downtown 1920s showplaces the Oviatt Building and the Fine Arts Building. He is also currently overhauling the former headquarters of aviation titan Howard Hughes at Playa Vista near Marina del Rey.
His firm Ratkovich Co. bought the Bloc with partners National Real Estate Advisors, National Real Estate Development and Blue Vista Capital for $241 million in 2013.
City Councilman Jose Huizar said Tuesday that the Bloc "will fundamentally change the shopping experience" in downtown Los Angeles.
"We no longer want to see fortress-like buildings," he said.