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The Future of Downtown Long Beach

Los Angeles Retail

It's been years since anyone referred to Long Beach as Iowa-by-the-Sea, and given the port city's development activity, the folks in Des Moines would hardly recognize the place today. That's why we're holding an event, Bisnow's Future of Downtown Long Beach, tomorrow at 200 W Ocean Blvd; continental breakfast and networking begin at 8am. (Sign up here).

One of our panelists, Cliff Ratkovich (with wife Rose and Mihlali, one of two girls they sponsor in South Africa), is under construction on The Edison, an adaptive reuse of a 10-story office building that previously served as City Hall East. It was built in 1959 as SoCalEd's regional HQ, and Cliff tells us the building is a great example of mid-century modern architecture. "It has relatively narrow floorplates, which work really well for residential." The project will contain 156 urban apartment lofts plus 4,000 SF of ground-floor retail, and the spotlight will be on building a highly social community. Some amenities: a cafe and coffeehouse, rooftop lounge, community game room and bike lounge, which will be more than just a place to work on your bike but also to hang out with fellow cyclists. Completion: October 2015.

Cliff, whose development partners on The Edison are The Kor Group and Waterton Residential, notes the building is adjacent to a Metro Blue Line stop; he's targeting younger (25 to 40) urban professionals. He's got two other urban residential, mixed-use projects in the downtown area that will total 250 units. For a number of years, Cliff worked in the biz with his uncle Wayne. He and Rose founded Tapestry Homes, housing 12 children who've been orphaned, abandoned or abused in the township of Kayamandi, South Africa. Speaking of bicycles, his hobby is restoring vintage steel-framed road bikes. In March, he'll be pedaling through the Santa Ynez Valley with the six-member Men of Steel in a charity bike ride to help find a cure for cancer.

Another of our panelists, Downtown Long Beach Associates president and CEO Kraig Kojian, points to new residential development--The Current, The Edison, and Parc Broadway projects to name just three--as well as commercial development taking place in the area. There's been a lot of transition with the sale of properties and new investment in the city's downtown, he says. Within the past couple years, the City approved a Downtown Plan that offers incentives and a streamlined process for development, and an adaptive reuse ordinance that facilitates conversion of older spaces to create new housing opportunities. Kraig heads a nonprofit org that manages two improvement districts in downtown Long Beach. As for what's driving this activity, he cites a newfound appreciation for the authenticity of strong urban centers, as well as Long Beach's convenient location between LA and Orange counties.

Michael Bohn (with his sons), one of our moderators, is principal and design director for Studio One Eleven at P+R Architects. One of the projects he's working on, the Ocean Center Building, originally was built in 1929 as a premier office building. It was the first major office building constructed on the bluff side of Ocean Boulevard, but over time, it was neglected and became a Class-C building. The owner, Levy Affiliated, is converting the building to residential housing with a focus on Millennials, Michael says. There'll also be ground-floor retail.

Ocean Center Building is just now going through the approval process. The building will be articulated with numerous roofdecks to take advantage of the waterfront and ocean views. There'll be a fitness deck and another dedicated as a dog park. In addition, the project will boast a "bike kitchen": a place to store or work on your bike. A mechanic will come a few times a week to give bikes a tune-up. According to Michael, downtown Long Beach has a deep culture of biking and pets, and "this building will support those trends."

Tying into another trend is the Studio One Eleven-designed Long Beach Senior Arts Colony, developed by Meta Housing. As the Boomers retire, Michael says, they want to live in a different environment than their parents' retirement communities. The urban TOD project reflects the idea that seniors want to continue to learn, offering a bevy of art programs as well as community gardens where residents can grow their own food. Michael created the first parklets in SoCal, taking spaces for cars and turning them into people spaces. Inspired by one of his sons, he's also planted a couple hundred trees in Long Beach. Our event will offer plenty of coffee and networking. Here's another chance to sign up now.