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'Titans' Discuss Downtown in 2020

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, October 13, 2010, at 09:30AM
Downtown 2020 Panel Eric Richardson

Eli Broad speaks during a panel of “Titans of Downtown” that included Tim Leiweke, Nelson Rising and Jim Thomas and was moderated by Tom Gilmore (left).

Over lunch on Tuesday, a panel of “titans” sat down to discuss Downtown’s next decade. While the four brought varied backgrounds and differently colored visions to the conversation, they found consensus in the potential of Los Angeles, and Downtown in particular.

Philanthropist Eli Broad has been in the news this year for the art museum he now plans to build on Grand Avenue, so unsurprisingly he preached the power of Los Angeles as a cultural destination. Downtown’s collection of museums and great architecture will make it an increasingly important destination for cultural tourism, Broad told the audience at the Central City Association’s Downtown 2020 symposium.

He, of course, is putting his money where his mouth is, footing the $100 million cost of the museum’s construction and supporting it with a $200 million endowment. The project won’t break ground until mid-November, but Broad already has an opening date in mind: December 8, 2012, just two days after Art Basel ends in Miami.

AEG CEO Tim Leiweke has spent the last decade constructing an entertainment complex that’s now home to four sports teams and most of Hollywood’s awards shows, so his vision of future Los Angeles is similarly unsurprising.

“I think that tourism and events are going to drive our economy in 2020,” he told the group.

As part of that push, Leiweke and AEG are behind a plan to tear down part of the Convention Center and replace it with a stadium that would lure the NFL back to Los Angeles.

While he emphasized that “we need a lot to go right on football,” Leiweke expressed his belief that the change would make Los Angeles competitive for all kinds of large events.

“Everywhere we go, it’s amazing,” he said. “When we sit down with the NCAA and talk about ‘Would you ever think about Final Fours in Downtown?’ they say ‘We’re there, tomorrow’”

Jim Thomas of Thomas Properties is working on a redevelopment project that would create a new, high-rise hotel and office tower on the site of the Wilshire Grand. He told the room that he hopes to see the hotel open in the first quarter of 2016, helping to support Leiweke’s vision to bring more events Downtown.

“More challenging is the office building,” he said, pointing out that he had helped create the glut of space in the 1980s. Still, he was optimistic on his chances.

“I predict to this audience right now: we will have a new office building in Downtown Los Angeles in the next three to five years, and I want to build it.”

Nelson Rising, head of MPG Office Trust, pointed out that some of Downtown’s future will depend on the broader, national economic market.

“I think we’re on the right track,” he said, though he cautioned that it would still be two to three years before a full recovery.

In the pre-lunch session, panelists discussed the "Live, Work, Play" Downtown of 2020.

Andrew Meieran, owner of The Edison, said that he believes the neighborhood can still support growth in the area of bars and restaurants.

"I don't think we're even remotely close to being saturated," he said. "We're still so under-served for the community that it's actually kind of staggering for me."

Meieran recently purchased the historic Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway. He said that he looks for projects that can "be a catalyst for reinvigorating an entire area."

It can be the little projects that make the biggest difference on Broadway, Meieran said, mentioning the importance of reactivating lights and cleaning facades.

Broker Derrick Moore of CB Richard Ellis addressed the challenge of bringing retailers into the Downtown market. He said that getting Target to announce its long-rumored deal at the 7+Fig complex would do a lot for getting other retailers on-board.

"What [leases such as that one] say is that mainstream retail has validated Downtown," he said.

Melanie Smith of Melendrez said that recent moves to add park space to Downtown are important, but the city must at the same time figure out ways to pay for maintenance. Her firm designed the landscaping around the LAPD headquarters, space that has fallen through the cracks in terms of who was responsible for upkeep.

The morning's most frequently mentioned project was almost certainly the L.A. Streetcar. Transportation issues — and particularly the challenges of connecting parts of Downtown — were cited by many speakers as one the central city's prime challenges over the next decade. Shiraz Tangri, head of the Downtown L.A. Neighborhood Council's Planning and Land Use committee, summed it up. The streetcar "is the game-changer," he said."


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