Big Condo Complex Planned for Alhambra

Times Staff Writer

The San Gabriel Valley, boasting strong job growth but relatively little new housing in recent years, will soon see one of its largest residential projects.

Construction is expected to begin next year on a $189-million, 351-unit condominium complex in Alhambra. The units are to be priced from about $400,000 to $900,000.

Los Angeles developer Ratkovich Co. said last week that it planned to build the complex at an office park called the Alhambra, which occupies the 45-acre former campus of C.F. Braun Engineering on South Fremont Avenue. The site also served as the backdrop for the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” television series.


“Our intention is to create an urban community,” company President Wayne Ratkovich said. His company also built a 120,000-square-foot shopping center across the street on South Fremont Avenue in 2005.

The development in part reflects the growing influx of Asian money and immigrants into the valley, which is running out of land for new development, analysts said.

The project also reflects the urban planning trend of combining office, retail and residential buildings within walking distance of one another.

The project comes in a market that saw only 35 sales of new homes over the last year, according to real estate research firm DataQuick Information Systems.

Price appreciation for existing homes and condos in Alhambra surpassed Los Angeles County at large in four out of the last five years, yet the median Alhambra home price in August of $499,000 was still $18,000 cheaper than that of the county overall, according to DataQuick.

Population has grown slightly from almost 86,000 in 2000 to more than 89,000 this year, according to census figures. At 4.2%, unemployment falls below the county average of 5.1%.


“The San Gabriel Valley has been one of the strongest regions of the county, recording record job gains,” said economist Jack Kyser of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

The valley’s attractiveness to people of Asian heritage, including many with roots in China or Taiwan, “just evolved over several decades,” he said. “You have a high Asian comfort factor.”

The Chinese government has been easing controls on its citizens’ overseas spending, “so we should expect more of their investments here,” said Gardena real estate broker Randal Lee of Lilly Enterprises, who represents Asian investors in the United States. “Their first buy will be residential, 9 times out of 10.”

Real estate demand from immigrant Chinese will grow further as they establish competitive brands and businesses, much as Japanese and Korean immigrants did in recent decades, Lee said. “They’re coming here to sell things.”

Alhambra, established more than a century ago, also is benefiting from the economic recovery that has lifted many older districts of the county in recent years, as investors and wealthy residents return to the region’s urban core after decades of flight to the suburbs.

The city has spent more than $30 million since 1994 on public improvements, such as new parking structures, as part of an effort to attract commercial development, City Manager Julio Fuentes said. The plan, dating from the late 1990s, calls for improving several main arteries, including Fremont Avenue and Main Street, where the city is trying to draw retail and multiunit residential development.

Los Angeles developer Jerry Snyder plans two Alhambra projects that would include condominiums, stores and restaurants, Fuentes said. Olson Co. is completing 129 condos on Main Street.

“We’re trying to create enough synergy to revitalize our downtown corridor,” Fuentes said.

Ratkovich is wagering that there will be substantial demand for Alhambra condos when his project comes on line in about three years.

“We are a private company, so we can take a longer view of the marketplace and don’t have to look at next quarter or even next year,” he said.

The condos will be set in a small village with parks, fountains and a courtyard. The project designer is Los Angeles architect Scott Johnson, who also designed the Fox Plaza office building in Century City and the new Met Lofts apartments in downtown L.A..

Target buyers are young professionals, “empty nesters” and the approximately 3,000 employees of businesses already located at the 1-million-square-foot office campus, said Milan Ratkovich, the development manager.

Offices there date to the 1920s and are about 95% leased to such tenants as Los Angeles County, Tenet Healthcare Corp. and USC’s Keck School of Medicine.

Ratkovich plans to build the condos in several sizes and configurations, including two-story town houses, four-story stacked duplexes and six-story towers.