News
11.26.2013
Grand Re-Entry
Frank Gehry returns to Los Angeles' massive Grand Avenue Project; could be long-delayed plan's saving grace.
Frank Gehry's new plan for the Grand Avenue Project in Los Angeles calls for a residential and hotel towers..
Courtesy Related Companies

Just last month Frank Gehry promised a crowd assembled at his own Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles that he would be returning to the Grand Avenue Project, Related Companies’ long-stalled effort to add retail, restaurants, residences, and hotels to the monumental, but one-note, street that the hall dominates. Gehry had designed the multi-phase Grand Avenue project for Related over five years ago, but the plan was scuttled by the economic downturn.

It appears Gehry wasn’t bluffing.

Thursday, Related submitted Gehry’s new conceptual plan for the project—which encompasses three acres directly across from Disney Hall—to the Grand Avenue Authority (GAA), a joint powers commission of the county and city of Los Angeles. Encompassing one parcel (known as Parcel Q), Gehry’s roughly $650-$700 million plan focuses on connectivity, weaving its off-kilter components around a central U-shaped plaza opening to Grand Avenue and adding pedestrian connections to other local icons, like Disney Hall and Grand Park.

 

The new plaza will slope down one block from Grand Avenue to Olive Street, inserting a jumble of buildings and pavilions over “several choreographed levels,” as Related said it in its statement, including terraces, patios, and decks. In addition to retail and open space, the development will contain a 300-room SLS Hotel at First and Grand and a residential tower at Second and Olive containing market rate and affordable apartments and condominiums.

Detailed views of the project won’t be revealed until schematic design is completed in the first quarter of 2014, Related California president Bill Witte told AN. But Witte revealed that Gehry’s towers would be “more straightforward,” and would no longer contain undulating glass curtain walls. “That’s the voice of experience, and the voice of economics,” he said.

“I think Frank would say that new plan is more appropriate for Grand Avenue,” added Witte, referring to the project’s scale, orientation, and uses. All of Parcel Q will now be developed at once, not in phases as the company had planned just months ago.

Gehry told the LA Times that he is also working with Disney Hall to pull its café out to the street and to change the paving pattern of Grand Avenue between First and Second streets.

 

For Related, Grand Avenue has been nothing less than a grand saga. The GAA first approved its project in 2007, but the undertaking quickly became mired in economic-related delays. Still waiting for financing to materialize, the company was granted development agreement extensions in 2009, 2011, and again this September. After Gehry’s contract lapsed last year the company hadn’t re-signed it because “we didn’t know if it was possible” economically, Witte said. With the September 2013 development deadline looming, the company hired Gensler to develop a new site plan and Robert A.M. Stern, who it had worked with before, to design a new residential tower.

Those plans met with the disdain of the GAA. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who heads the group, said they lacked “any architectural interest whatsoever,” and did nothing to promote street activity and pedestrian activity. Shortly later Molina told radio station KCRW that “I’d be particularly glad if they’re going to bring back Frank Gehry. I know he can deliver a product that will be a tribute to Los Angeles.” Shortly after the authority’s rebuff, Related, bolstered by the interest of hotel company SLS, re-hired Gehry, said Witte.

Efforts to reach Molina’s office were not successful, but Witte told the LA Downtown News that the new proposal has been “very favorably received.”

The remaining parcels of the original multi-billion-dollar Grand Avenue Project look much different than originally planned. West of Grand Avenue, Eli Broad (to whom Related assigned its development rights) is building his new Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed museum, The Broad, and an adjacent park, and Arquitectonica is building a residential tower for Related. All are planned for completion late next year. Farther east a series of surface parking lots have yet to be incorporated into a final phase of work. The only piece completed from the original plan is Rios Clementi Hale’s highly successful Grand Park, which stretches three blocks east from the Music Center down to City Hall.

Witte said Related is now trying to renegotiate its January 20 deadline with the GAA. “Assuming they’re willing to do that we would go to the next steps,” he said. The goal, said Witte, is to break ground in 2015 and open by 2019. So is it really happening?

“We believe that is the case, but we now have a ways to go,” Witte said.

Sam Lubell