International architecture firm Gensler is expected to announce Friday that it will move its regional headquarters to downtown Los Angeles after operating for 20 years in Santa Monica.
The move is viewed as a coup by Los Angeles officials, who are attempting to woo businesses to the city with a program that exempts new arrivals or start-ups from paying gross receipts taxes for three years.
Gensler will occupy the upper two floors of a three-story building nestled between the twin 52-story skyscrapers of City National Plaza.
The building housed a large branch of Bank of America and bank offices for decades after completion in 1972 of what was then known as Arco Plaza, but the upstairs has been empty since Thomas Properties Group Inc. acquired the complex in 2003.
"We have always wanted to get a tenant in there who captures our vision of the project," Chief Executive Jim Thomas said. "I think the Gensler space will be exciting."
Gensler's move downtown wasn't completely unexpected. The neighborhood has become home to several architecture firms, and Gensler is involved in major projects downtown including L.A. Live and the Broad Museum. The firm is considered a leading contender to design the downtown football stadium proposed by L.A. Live owner AEG.
Gensler plans to start work immediately on preparing its space for a move in October. Plans call for adding a large skylight and a mezzanine that will increase the number of square feet in the offices to 45,000 from 32,000.
"We essentially have our free-standing building amongst all the giants," architect Rob Jernigan of Gensler said. "It will be unique and be an architectural branding device for us."
Terms of the 12-year lease weren't revealed. Rents downtown usually are cheaper than on the Westside.
The building Gensler will occupy also houses restaurants Chaya and Drago Centro. Thomas Properties has spent $185 million on renovations and upgrades to the plaza since buying it from Japan-based Shuwa Investment Corp., Thomas said.
Companies moving from one major Los Angeles office market to another is uncommon, real estate brokers say, because managers and their employees are often reluctant to disturb housing and commuting patterns.
Gensler's move from Santa Monica to downtown will be more disruptive for managers such as Jernigan who can afford to buy houses on the Westside than for many employees who commute to work or rent apartments in the area, he said.
Having an office in fashionable Santa Monica has been a financial hardship for many of the firm's 230 local employees, Jernigan said, and many plan to move to neighborhoods closer to downtown such as Hollywood and Silver Lake.
"It taught me that we're a much more mobile community than I realized," Jernigan said. "People really will move around the workplace."
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other city officials are set to speak Friday about Gensler's interest in taking advantage of the city's business tax holiday program.
"It is about time that a company that has done so much to transform and revitalize downtown L.A. will finally be located near all the iconic landmarks they designed," Villaraigosa said in a statement.