Standing in a cornfield at Boylston and Colton streets, just west of the Harbor Freeway and the civic center area, Father Eamon Donnelly sees the future.
What he sees are the towers of downtown Los Angeles, and in the shimmering sunlight, they seem to be moving toward him.
Downtown's booming international financial district is about to make its long-anticipated, full-scale leap across the Harbor Freeway.
Some futurists are saying that this leap could eventually change both the appearance and character of Los Angeles.
Northern Part of Area
The corn grows on an otherwise empty lot in a neighborhood of empty lots and mostly run-down houses. The neighborhood is the northern part of an area described as Central City West.
The total area extends west of the Harbor Freeway roughly from Sunset Boulevard to 8th Street and west to Lucas Street.
Donnelly, pastor of the Holy Rosary Chapel at 1105 W. Colton St., is concerned for the future of the largely low-income, Spanish-speaking families who live in the neighborhood.
"Many of these families have already had to move--some of them two or three times. Yet, they try to live in the area to preserve their sense of community," Donnelly says.
First Step Toward Development
While Donnelly looks east, Coldwell Banker broker Scott Keesling looks west from his downtown office.
Keesling, who specializes in Central City West property, says that the first step toward the full development of the area is the adoption of a plan now being negotiated between the city and Center City West Associates, a group representing property owners.
Melanie Fallon, deputy Los Angeles city planning director, says "we want to slow-down, fast-enough to explore the economic growth and human issues." Fallon says the city would like to achieve some sort of a balance between housing and jobs.
Councilwoman Gloria Molina, whose district covers most of Center City West, says she wants the plan to assure that any housing demolished be replaced at equivalent rents. Currently there are about 4,000 housing units in the area. Population is about 13,000.
Street Pattern Change
Los Angeles developer John King, who owns about 20 acres in the neighborhood of the chapel, says that for community harmony, housing for all income levels should be, as far as possible, mixed together rather than having a separate area for lower income families.
Fallon also says that the street pattern in the area must be changed to improve traffic flow.
Keesling says that following agreement on the plan, the next step would be development of about 13 acres located between 6th, 4th, Bixel and Beaudry streets and owned by Unocal.
"The office and retail project to be built on Unocal property will set the tone and define what is to come," he says. He expects the project to have a value of more than $1 billion at build-out.
Once work starts on the Unocal property, he foresees the development of two nearby primarily residential projects, the Crown Hill development between Lucas, Bixel and Emerald streets, of about 13 acres, and the adjacent Pacific Centre project of about 10 acres between 2nd, 3rd and Boylston streets.
Keesling also envisions a "pedestrian-friendly" Beaudry Street corridor stretching from Sunset Boulevard to 9th Street, with medium-rise offices buildings, trees, shops and cafes. This pedestrian corridor, he says, could help give a 24-hour character to downtown and areas farther west.
John C. Cushman III, president of Cushman Realty Corp., is directing the sale of the Unocal property.
Cushman says that Central City West will have more parking and less traffic than the traditional part of downtown.
Cushman also says that another advantage is that ground level elevation is the equivalent of the seventh or eighth floor of a downtown building such as Arco Plaza.
David Grannis, director of Center City West Associates, emphasizes the importance of the fact that developers will be working with larger parcels of land than are available downtown. This will enable them to create new kinds of mixed-use projects that will include housing.
John McAniff, director of research at Cushman, says he expects the full development of Central City West to take up to 15 years.
Richard Peiser, director of the Lusk Center for Real Estate Development at USC, studies the prospects of growth west of Central City West.
Peiser says that this westward movement would be in keeping with the Sector Theory, which holds that real estate growth is pulled in the direction of the highest-income residential properties--in this case, toward the Westside.
Peiser sees this growth as a series of mixed-use developments combining offices, stores, apartments and condominiums.
Randall Lewis, executive vice president/director of marketing, Lewis Homes, foresees new types of apartments that will offer features of single-family homes, such as enhanced kitchens, bathrooms and garages with storage space.
Lewis says this shift toward apartment living, spurred by the high prices of single-family houses and the proximity to downtown jobs, will represent a major change in Los Angeles life style.
McAniff believes that westward growth will be focused along Wilshire Boulevard, 6th and 3rd streets. He says that this process could take up to 50 years.
The maximum density will be along Wilshire, he says, with the low density to the north and south. As with development in Central City West, he expects development not to be done on individual properties but on larger parcels. These parcels, he says, could be as small as 60,000 square feet and as large as a complete block.