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South Park's Time

Los Angeles

With hundreds of trendy new bars and restaurants, and a burgeoning population of hipsters, Downtown LA would be more smug if only our Convention Center could compete with the likes of Anaheim and San Diego.

That's one of the challenges raised at Bisnow's Evolution of Downtown Summit last week. Our event (plus bottomless urns of free coffee) drew 375 to the LA Marriott LA Live. Stay tuned for Panel 2 tomorrow, featuring more top developers and owners.

Our South Park panel included AEG Worldwide EVP-real estate development Ted Tanner. He says his company is still focused on bringing the NFL back to LA. But with the clock running out this October to secure a team, the company wants an active role in the City's audible back-up plan, which includes fixing up the Convention Center. Over the next three years, 3,000 hotel rooms are slated to arrive Downtown—60% of the existing supply; absorbing those will be a Herculean task, Ted says: "The Convention Center needs to expand." With AEG taking over management of the facility, he's hoping to see some improvement in the Convention Center's profitability.

Founding principal Paul Keller says Mack Urban made a big bet on Downtown in 'Q3 last year, snapping up parking lots around the AT&T Center to do ground-up development. The company plans to move forward over a seven- to 10-year period on a number of both low-rise and high-rise projects, "not bringing so much product on, where everyone is cannibalizing everyone else." (In hindsight, having foresight is a good idea.) Mack Urban is close to receiving its first site plan review approval on a 350-unit rental community at Pico, Olive and Hill. The company's also become active in the Streetcar project.

Century West Partners SVP Kevin Farrell says new hotel and other Downtown development means more "Avanteurs" for his company's 450-unit, seven-story Avant South Park Apartments on Figueroa. Phase 1 just opened; an additional 180 units open next month. While some say high-rise is the only way to go on Figueroa, Kevin notes an influx of international capital to the more prominent sites means a lot of high-rises and iconic projects will get built. The firm just leased a 6,500 SF space to a restaurant. As blocks get filled in, he says, that’s going to create the neighborhood whether the buildings are tall or seven stories.

South Park BID executive director Jessica Lall says the 32-square-block neighborhood is at a critical point, with 17 projects. The BID has made retail a big priority, hiring someone who's specifically focused on retail activation, and working with developers to get the right kind of retail. Restaurants and small businesses see South Park as the place they want to be in a year or two, but right now, if you’re not there during lunch hour or a game, the foot traffic is lacking. (Can't we just have lunch all day?) The BID's also hoping to launch a pop-up program this fall.

With no less than the NY Times naming Downtown LA as one of the places to go to in 2014, our moderator, Allen Matkins partner Fernando Villa, says South Park is at the epicenter of the area's renaissance. A raging debate is emerging about dichotomous development, he notes: High-rise, skyscraper development in certain portions, potentially conflicting with people who want to keep a more community feel to South Park with low- and mid-rise residential and mixed-use pedestrian-friendly projects.

Also discussed: Councilman Jose Huizar's proposed moratorium on low- and mid-rise projects, while the City comes up with incentives for high-rise development in South Park. Jessica believes the issue has made planners more upfront about what they want to see. Ted says AEG has taken a firm stance with people who have tried to strip retail entitlements from properties the company has sold them. Paul points out that with tall buildings, the footprint doesn't need to occupy the entire site; create open space for dogs and people to hang out and to activate the ground-floor retail.

We couldn't put on events without our sponsors. Above, Saunders Commercial Seismic Retrofit president Steve Saunders chats with Bisnow's Frank Sanchez. Thanks to all our sponsors including Streit Lending, Big Law Partners, Tangram, Premier Cabling Solutions, and Swinerton Builders.