Area development finally underway around Disney Hall

This story has been corrected. See note below for details.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall has been a boon to downtown business, real estate experts say, even though a key long-planned development near it remains stalled.

In a region so deprived of landmark buildings that the Hollywood sign often serves as the symbol for Los Angeles, the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Hall has emerged as one of the city’s few internationally recognized structures.

“It’s a very special place, so it’s had a real impact on the credibility of downtown L.A.,” said John Cushman, chairman of commercial real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield. “Very few cities have a crown jewel like this.”

INTERACTIVE: Disney Hall inside and out


The hall is one of the most compelling cultural amenities that has emerged downtown in the last decade and a half, he said, helping attract new residents and new businesses. The Staples Center and L.A. Live sports, hotel and entertainment complex have also pulled the spotlight downtown.

But while the blocks near L.A. Live have seen billions of dollars’ worth of new residential and hotel development with more on the way, Disney hasn’t had any new neighbors — until now.

Preliminary work has begun on a new rail line to serve the area, and major construction projects are underway just south on Grand Avenue in the high-profile Broad art museum and a $120-million apartment tower linked to the museum by a shared public plaza. The unnamed apartment tower is set to be completed by the end of next year; business mogul and philanthropist Eli Broad has said he expects the museum to open by the end of 2014.

TIMELINE: Walt Disney Hall through the years

Related Cos.’ 19-story apartment tower and the Broad will fill in the west side of Grand Avenue, which has been vacant for decades after a mid-20th century urban renewal project that razed Bunker Hill’s aging residential and commercial structures. Related Cos. is working with the Broad to build the connecting plaza, which will include landscaping, seating and places to dine, said Bill Witte, president of Related California, a division of New York-based Related.

Its 271-unit apartment building is intended to be understated in its appearance to avoid competing visually with the famous Disney and the $130-million Broad, which will have a tilted honeycomb facade of precast concrete evocative of the modern art within.

The apartments are the first residential phase of the Grand Avenue Project, once valued at more than $3 billion. The project was to include a dramatic complex of high-rise towers designed by Gehry with shops, plush condominiums and a five-star hotel.

Those plans were shelved during the recession and remain on hold. Eli Broad struck an agreement with Related Cos. and public officials during the downturn to build a contemporary art museum on one of the parcels.

FULL COVERAGE: Walt Disney Concert Hall at 10

City and county officials recently granted Related an extension on its contract to build the bulk of the Grand Avenue Project across Grand Avenue from Disney Hall where an aging parking structure now lies. New plans must be submitted by fall, Witte said, and construction must begin by March 2015.

Completion of Disney Hall got the ball rolling, he said. “Without the concert hall, there would have been no thinking about the Grand Avenue Project.”

Last year Related Cos. completed the $56-million Grand Park between the Music Center and City Hall as the first phase of the project.

The revised plans for the rest of the project are expected to be less ambitious than those first proposed, but Martha Welborne of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hopes Related will still think big.

“High-quality architecture is really important,” she said, “and a hotel is a key ingredient to make it a really public space. Housing alone isn’t enough. You’ve got to have commercial uses in there.”

INTERVIEWS: Remembering Disney Hall

Welborne, an architect and urban planner, was once managing director of the Grand Avenue Committee overseeing the development. She is now in charge of planning for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The MTA has started work on downtown streets in preparation for digging an underground rail line running from 1st Street and Central Avenue to the 7th Street/Metro Center at 7th and Flower streets. Much of the 1.9-mile route will pass under 2nd Street, and there will be a station behind the Broad museum at 2nd and Hope streets.

Although skeptics — including Gehry — have raised concerns that train noise might invade Disney, MTA officials have vowed that trains won’t be heard or felt in the hall. “It’s a deep station,” Welborne said. The $1.3-billion subway is set to open in July 2020.

[For the record: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect date for the opening of the Broad Museum.]