Developer Chosen for Major Project Claims Its Plan Is Best for Los Angeles Despite Accusations of ‘Politics’ : A Big Win in Little Tokyo

Times Staff Writer

As the dust was settling last week over a controversial City Council vote on a $200-million Little Tokyo project not expected to be under construction for at least another year, Michael D. Barker, managing partner of the winning development team, telephoned from his San Francisco office.

Sure, he conceded, the decision to give his group the go-ahead had political implications:

“I’m not going to argue with that. . . . There are people who voted for and against us strictly for political reasons, but everything we did was legal . . . and ours was rated first in urban design. We also have the best deal for the city from an economic standpoint, though we were rated second.”

Several groups had competed to develop the plum city-owned site, on nearly 8 acres bounded by San Pedro, 1st, Temple and Alameda streets, but the City Council decided, 8-5, in favor of First Street Plaza Partners, despite criticism that the team’s inclusion of some old-time allies of Mayor Tom Bradley provided an unfair edge.


Citing cronyism and unanimous city staff approval of a proposal by Showa Village Associates (a joint venture of the Janss Corp. and Watt/Parker Inc.), Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, expected to run against Bradley in the next mayoral election, urged Bradley to veto the selection, but the mayor approved the choice last week.

In essence, this means that Barker’s group--consisting of the Barker-Patrinely Group, McCarthy Properties, Ohbayashi America Corp., Taira Investment Co. and six Bradley associates representing the minority community (including David Lizzarraga, president of TELACU, the East Los Angeles Community Union)--will develop the property.

Although it will be Barker’s and the joint venture’s first project in Los Angeles, Ohbayashi and Taira have completed a number of developments in Little Tokyo.

“Over the next six months we will negotiate--on an exclusive basis--a contract with the city to encompass what will be built and the ground-lease document,” Barker explained. “We could get into a stalemate and fail to negotiate a contract, but that would be pretty hard to do, because our proposal is already all laid out.”


In terms of design, that means there will be a lot of open space, he said, with outdoor dining, two large public plazas and pedestrian-oriented areas with a sculpture garden directly in front of the Temporary Contemporary Museum. Landscape designer Koichi Kawana will be a consultant on the sculpture garden and on a large manicured Japanese garden.

“We’ll blend the Temporary Contemporary, sculpture and Japanese culture in the architectural design,” Barker said.

The project calls for a 27-story, 637,000-square-foot office building, to be occupied by the city; 80,000 square feet of retail space, a 450-room hotel with conference facilities and a 60,000-square-foot Japanese American National Museum, to be designed by O’Leary, Terasawa, Takahashi, DeChellis & Chaffin.

Others on the design team are: The Architects Collaborative, overall design concepts; the Nadel Partnership, the office tower and retail space; John Williams & Associates, architectural consultant, and Shoji Shimizu Architects, the residential portions.


“If the city wants, we’ll build 316 housing units,” Barker said. While Barker’s group originally offered to build only 108, Showa Village Associates proposed building 316 at a lower overall project cost.

“I wrote Jan. 22, saying that if the city elected to direct us to do so, we would agree to increase the number of housing units we would build and reduce the amount of office space,” Barker said. “If they want us to build 316, we will.

“They haven’t told us to do that yet, but it’s an offer we could work out later, and I’m sure we will.”