Developer gets another shot at Grand Avenue proposal

After rejecting the initial architectural drawings for an ambitious plan to remake downtown’s Grand Avenue into a cultural hub, a government panel on Monday unanimously voted to give the developer a nearly four-month extension to create a suitable proposal.

The 4-0 vote by the Los Angeles Grand Avenue Authority was crucial, coming just hours before the authority’s agreement with the developer expired, which would have thrown the entire plan into chaos. But the chairwoman of the authority, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who led the criticism of the design last week, warned that the body was tiring of delays.

“We hope this is the last and final extension this [authority] will be involved in,” she said. “We are hopeful as anyone that this project will get moving and it will be a first-class development that we would like to see along Grand Avenue.”

A representative of Related Cos, the developer, said they shared that goal. “This has been a challenging process but we remain singularly focused on the creation of a world-class destination development for downtown L.A.,” said Bea Hsu, vice president of development for Related California.

Efforts to remake Grand Avenue into the “Champs-Elysees of Los Angeles” have been underway for more than a decade and have been oft-delayed, in part because of the recession.

The $650-million proposal discussed Tuesday is the centerpiece of the project—two towers offering luxury condos, apartments, a hotel and high-end shops and restaurants across from the landmark Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Last week, the authority voted 3-0 to reject the architectural concept presented by the developer, saying that the designs were boring and unappealing, and failed to offer meaningful public space. The vote was billed as a rejection of the proposal, not the developer, which has invested nine years and $120 million in the effort.

But according to the authority’s staff, the vote killed the project. If the project falls apart, the county could face major legal liability, notably because of the $50 million that Related put into the expansion and reconstruction of adjacent Grand Park, which stretches from the Music Center to City Hall.

The developer is already building a residential tower on Grand Avenue as part of the authority's effort to remake the corridor.

In recent days, staffers worked hastily to fix the situation, calling a special meeting Monday, hours before the authority’s agreement with Related expired at midnight. Three of the four members who sit on the panel participated by phone, including Molina, who called in from a hotel lobby in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she is on vacation. Her line frequently cut out, leading a staffer to repeatedly call out, “Madame chair, are you there?”

In addition to extending the agreement to Jan. 20, the authority on Monday voted to find a facilitator to work with the developer and to rescind last week’s vote to reject the conceptual proposal. Related must submit new conceptual plans by Nov. 25, but is encouraged to do so by Oct. 30.

Representatives of business, labor and downtown interests testified in support of the project and the developer before the vote.

“I’ve been involved in the effort to revitalize downtown from the very beginning and this project is extremely important,” said Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the downtown-based Central City Assn., adding that the value of the overall project and all its components is $1 billion. “You don’t threaten $1 billion because you have concerns about a conceptual design.”’

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seema.mehta@latimes.com

 

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