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Downtown Sidewalk Repair Offers Plenty of Stumbles

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, October 15, 2008, at 04:16PM
New Mart Sidewalk Replacement Eric Richardson

A contractor works on sidewalk replacement outside the New Mart building, at 9th and Los Angeles.

It really should have been a simple job. The sidewalk outside the New Mart was uneven, and building management wanted to replace it. They even wanted to pay for the work and had the contractors lined up to get it done.

Three months later, with a budget that's five times what was originally planned, the project's finally nearing completion. How a simple stretch of sidewalk could be so complicated offers a great lesson in the hidden difficulties of historic buildings and the patience required when dealing with the city of Los Angeles.

The New Mart sits in the Fashion District, at the corner of 9th and Los Angeles. Originally the Harris Newmark Building, the structure was announced in June of 1925 and named after the prominent Los Angeles businessman, whose estate built the edifice. It featured twelve stories, 350,000 square feet of floor space and a large basement, and was leased to the Klein-Norton Company, a dry goods wholesaler. In the 1980s the building was converted to use as a fashion mart, making use of its location next to the California Market Center.

Earlier this year, building manager Ethan Eller put together contractor bids to replace the sidewalk on the Los Angeles street side of the mart. Knowing the city's backlog of sidewalk repairs, Eller didn't even bother asking for the city to replace the sidewalk itself. "I knew better," he says.

Work had already started when things got complicated. Like many buildings Downtown, the New Mart has a basement that extends out under the sidewalk. When city inspectors checked out the in-process work and poked at the 80-year-old concrete roof atop the basement, they decided that it was no longer strong enough to support the weight of a new sidewalk.

It took three months for the city to sign off on the additional permits needed once the scope of work changed. In the process, the project budget went from $36,000 to roughly $180,000. Concrete beams in the basement had to have hundreds of holes drilled through them for new rebar to be installed, and temporary wooden supports had to be erected to assure that nothing fell down in the process.

Now that everything's finally in order, the new sidewalk should be poured shortly.

Lengthy sidewalk projects and basement issues are nothing new in Downtown. Recently the Community Redevelopment Agency spent $1.7 million to reconstruct the sidewalk around Grand Central Market at 3rd and Broadway. Funding came from the redevelopment project and the state. Similar government funds were expended on other sidewalks along Broadway between 2nd and 5th.

The city's lack of pedestrian accommodation is a favorite topic here on blogdowntown, and the impact the city's permitting sluggishness had on walkers bothered Eller. "The delays extended this project out an additional 90 days," he wrote in an email, "during which time we have had a fence around the sidewalk which impacted our neighbor's businesses and had pedestrians walking out in the street for several months."

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