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Darkened Brockman Waiting Its Turn

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, October 13, 2009, at 03:56PM
Brockman Building Dakota Smith / Curbed LA [la.curbed.com]

Popular new restaurant Bottega Louie celebrated its six-month anniversary last week. Crowds have come flocking to the 7th street space, but life hasn't always been easy for a restaurant operating on the ground floor of a building in bankruptcy.

The 12-story Brockman Building is one of Downtown's historic gems, but has stood darkened since developer West Millenium Homes filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on April 1. Six months later, Bank of America stands poised to take the building over and complete the project itself.

The restaurant opened for business on April 6, just five days after developer West Millennium Homes filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy for the project, located at 7th and Grand. While it likely wasn't visible to patrons, restaurant President Daniel Flores told the court that the first few months were tough.

"We were forced to deal with a multitude of Brockman Building issues without anybody managing the business of the building, including electrical supply issues, heating, ventilating and air conditioning issues ("HVAC"), and the like," he recounted in an October 6 declaration. "From time to time, these problems either threatened or actually caused us to shut down Restaurant operations temporarily."

Trustee Amy Goldman has operated the building since July, using funds provided by Bank of America. The bank was the project's construction lender, and tells the court that it will soon be transferring the loan and title to a subsidiary that will finish construction.

In a declaration filed on Friday, Bank of America Senior Vice President David Kegaries told the court that the company had received a bid of more than $200,000 for work remaining to get a Certificate of Occupancy. The bank is considering trying to find a lower bid, but Kegaries has authorization to spend the funds.

That money would come on top of the $350,000 that the bank had previously committed to spend on the building's current operations. Kaegaries said that the bank had also approved $45,000 to complete entitlement work.

Recent legal wranglings have centered on a parking lease for 51 spaces in the lot behind the building. A company controlled by developer Sonny Astani owns the lot and argues that the 2003 lease agreement has been voided. Lawyers for the building and the bank think differently.

Bank of America alleges that Astani is trying to get out of the lease to weaken any competition the Brockman would provide his own projects. "Mr. Astani apparently sees an opportunity to gain an advantage over a competing downtown project," its lawyers write in a recent court filing. "He wants to either cut-off or ransom the lifeblood of any residential project: convenient parking."

The issue was to go before Judge Kathleen Thompson this morning. With only 36 parking spaces beneath the building, those 50 spaces would likely play an important role in helping make the Brockman's 80 condo units salable.

The project may well be Downtown's slowest residential conversion. Work started in 2005, and a sales center was in place by 2006. The building spent years under a black tarp shroud, emerging in 2007 and 2008.

After a brief period of sales in mid-2008, the building was briefly converted to rentals before leasing was suspended in early January.

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