Los Angeles County supervisors gave their blessing Tuesday to a reimagined design for a proposed mix of high-end apartments, businesses and public space across from Walt Disney Concert Hall.
The $750-million plan to redevelop that portion of downtown's Grand Avenue nearly screeched to a halt in September, when a panel of city and county representatives overseeing the project rejected the design presented by developer Related Cos.
Supervisor Gloria Molina criticized the proposal's "boxiness" and lack of appeal to pedestrians, and county Chief Executive William T Fujioka, who also sits on the Grand Avenue Authority, said he was "very, very disappointed" with it.
The authority gave Related a four-month extension to return with an acceptable design. In November, the company delivered a new plan created by architect Frank Gehry's firm.
Gehry, who designed the distinctive Disney Hall across the street, was also the initial designer on the mixed-use site, but when his contract lapsed, Related instead commissioned the architecture firm Gensler to create a more modest plan.
The revised plan, which added $100 million to the project's estimated cost, is more open, with more connectivity for pedestrians coming from adjacent streets. It includes a terraced mix of shops and restaurants flanked by two towers, one a four-star hotel and the other an apartment and condominium building — with a public plaza opening onto Grand Avenue. Disney Hall will still be visible from below the new development through a gap in the buildings.
Several supervisors, including Molina, and Fujioka called the new design and the prospect of the project moving forward "exciting."
"This is exactly what we need," Molina said in an interview. "It's what's going to invigorate the whole Grand Avenue. That was the whole idea."
Plans to transform Grand Avenue into a pedestrian-friendly cultural mecca have been in the works for a decade, but much of the project was stalled by the recession.
One piece of the project, the Civic Center's new Grand Park, opened in 2012 after Related prepaid $50 million to the city and county in anticipation of rent from the project's first phase.
The park has become a bustling public center, frequented by workers at the adjacent courthouse and city and county halls and families who bring their children to play in its fountain in the summer. Thousands of people flocked there to celebrate the Fourth of July, Dia de los Muertos and New Year's Eve.
Philanthropist Eli Broad is constructing a new contemporary art museum next to Disney Hall, slated to be completed this year.
Broad said he was "delighted" with Gehry's new design: "It's very inviting, very exciting … and it will really help Grand Avenue develop into what it could be," he said.
When the Grand Avenue Authority scrapped the previous design, it briefly appeared that it would sever ties with Related, throwing the future of the project into doubt and drawing an outcry from business and labor groups.
"I was worried that it might actually fall apart completely, and I really didn't want to see that happen," said Patti Berman, president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. "It's really important for downtown. We need the development, and there was a great big hole in the middle of an area that was starting to develop."
Now that the county supervisors have given their unanimous approval, the plan goes back to the Grand Avenue Authority for approval Wednesday. The authority must approve a development agreement by Jan. 21.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky praised Molina and others for "holding the line."
"For the first time," he said, "I think we see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I think we can safely say that we'll all live long enough to see it built."