Downtown development boom set to move into South Central L.A. as city approves controversial high-rise complex

The downtown L.A. skyline as seen Monday from the rooftop helipad of the AT&T Tower building at Olive and 11th streets.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The building boom that has transformed downtown over the last decade pushed farther south Tuesday, with the Los Angeles City Council approving a $1.2-billion residential, hotel and retail project below the 10 Freeway in the city’s historic South Central core.

The high-end development has been controversial from its inception, a symbol of dramatic growth that many worried would push out the low-income residents who have lived in the area for decades.

The Reef Project — at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Broadway — will include several towers as high as 35 stories and house luxury condominiums and apartments as well as a hotel, grocery store, fitness center and restaurant space. The project is close to rail lines, in keeping with a citywide pattern of building major development near transportation corridors.

It is just one of several big projects slated for the Southside, which until recently had struggled to attract interest from developers. Plans are in the works for a 30-story tower complex at the corner near the La Cienega Expo Line station, which like the Reef has generated both praise and worry from local residents.

Minutes after the council passed the development of the Reef Project with a 12-0 vote, the audience erupted in chants of, “No to the Reef! The community does not approve!” and “Shame on Price!” a verbal admonishment directed at Councilman Curren Price, an early supporter of the project.


No protesters were escorted out of the meeting, something that happened three weeks ago during a meeting of the Planning and Land Use Commission, which drew hundreds of supporters and critics of the project.

During a phone interview, Price said he understood the concern of some residents.

“It is new … and we have not seen this in the 9th District or South Los Angeles and there’s certainly some uncertainty about it but definitely some excitement and enthusiasm” as well, he said.

Price said he hopes the project will encourage other projects like it that are fully funded with private money. Additionally, the developer agreed to set aside 5% of the rental units for low-income housing, provide $15 million for an affordable-housing fund and give an additional $3 million to community organizations for job training, youth programs and violence prevention efforts.

Community activists said the overwhelming majority of the residential units that are part of the project are not affordable for current residents in the area, which is one of the poorest in L.A. They fear the development will attract high-income people and drive up housing prices.

On the steps of City Hall before the council meeting, about three dozen protesters expressed concern and outrage over the project. Some asked for 50% of the units to be set aside for affordable housing.

Adriana Cabrera, 24, a longtime resident who says she’s running for the Council District 9 seat, said she wants quality grocery stores, shops and other amenities in her community, but she wants to be able to afford to live there. She said she was worried the project would speed up gentrification.

“We want it to be changed for us,” Cabrera said. “We don’t want it to be changed for other people who are going to come into our community and push us out.”

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6:30 p.m.: This story was updated with reworked top.