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Wishing for Change in State Office Sale

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, March 01, 2010, at 05:48PM
Reagan Building Eric Richardson [Flickr]

A pair of pedestrians walk along the empty 3rd street face of the Ronald Reagan State Office Building.

The State of California put two of its Downtown office buildings up for sale on Friday, part of a portfolio of 11 properties state-wide that it hopes an institution investor will snap up and lease back to it, generating a short-term cash infusion.

The arrangement likely means that operations at the two sites will continue unchanged, but what if a new buyer came in with a chance to revitalize? What could they do to improve the two structures?

From an urban perspective, the state's office buildings fall flat in their interface with the community. They're locked-up towers, inaccessible and inhospitable to passing community members.

The Ronald Reagan building -- occupying the north end of the block bounded by 3rd, Spring and Main -- is a notable offender, given its size. The structure, which contains 850,000 square feet of office space and opened in 1990, has even less of a friendly presence today than it did when it opened. Even then, state workers dubbed the massive building "Fort Ronnie" because of the way it loomed over its surroundings.

Three sides of the structure are closed off, with pedestrian entry to the building restricted to one of two entrances on Spring street. Another Spring entrance and one of Main sit chained off, a byproduct of increased security at government buildings.

The building's 3rd street face contains what could easily be retail spaces. Instead, they're ground-floor offices, blocked off from sidewalk view.

The Junipero Serra building at 320 W. 4th street contains a deli that is open to the public, but most passerbys would never know it. Entrance requires going through the building's lobby -- doors directly onto the sidewalk are sealed off. What should be retail space on Broadway instead houses internal uses. Permanent roll-down gates shield off the windows.

Both buildings sit at sites where their presence could be a force for good. Instead, they've long used security as an excuse to ignore the streets and ignore their places in creating a connective tissue between Downtown neighborhoods.

This state sale is unlikely to change that, but wouldn't it be nice if it did?

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