The New Green Zone

The New Green Zone

Courtesy CRA

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA) have big, green-tinted development dreams for a 20-acre property bordering the Los Angeles River. On September 23, the city announced the formation of a clean technology manufacturing center in downtown LA, and began seeking “green” firms to populate the CRA/LA-owned site.

According to Alex Paxton, the agency’s manager of policy analysis, the city hopes to tap into a rapidly growing economic sector to drive new job creation, revitalize a former polluted brownfield site, and help inspire other such green tech zones across Los Angeles.

“This is where everyone sees how the U.S. can revitalize its manufacturing economy,” Paxton told AN.

Among the businesses being courted are firms engaged in creating products in clean energy generation, sustainable building materials and furnishings, clean water technology, reduced emissions vehicle technology, manufactured products using recycled or organic materials, and similar clean tech initiatives. According to Paxton, the agency envisions a campus-type environment with a large anchor tenant, a cluster of firms that would manufacture related products, and a clean tech incubator. The project is intended to create not just an industrial zone, said Paxton, but a place where ideas can be shared.

The CRA’s Request For Interest (RFI), due by December 1, explicitly favors larger companies that require between 40,000 and 400,000 square feet, and will participate as owner/users in build-to-suit development or as tenants in developer-owned buildings. The CRA, which will retain ownership of the property, intends to issue RFPs in early 2009, with occupancy expected as early as 2011.

Qualifying companies will receive ample financial and development assistance, such as infrastructure grants, low interest CRA/LA loans, and permit expediting, in addition to access to city, state, and federal financial incentives. Tenants will also need to brush up on their green building guidelines: At minimum, all development must target a LEED Silver rating.

The project was originated by agency CEO Cecilia Estolano, who was exploring the highest and best use in terms of job creation for the 20-acre site, which lies downtown between 12th Street and Washington Blvd., and between Santa Fe Avenue and the Los Angeles River.

But the center promises to do much more. Given Los Angeles’ and California’s mandates for sustainability, Paxton said the CRA/LA sees Los Angeles as not only providing middle-class employees for the project but, also, a steady stream of customers in need of sustainable components and elements. For example, the city itself has a goal of generating 20 percent of its power from renewable resources by 2010 and 35 percent by 2020. The Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest container port, also has ambitious goals to decrease carbon-dioxide emissions.

The CRA said that construction and operation of the center would mesh with the goals of the LA River Revitalization Master Plan, which largely preserves industrial zoning along the river. But that has led some observers to wonder whether there might be even greener uses for the site. “The CRA’s goals and our goals can work together,” said Lewis MacAdam, founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River, a group that has worked since 1986 to bring back natural river habitat in Los Angeles, “but I have not seen anything yet about how this project works with the river.”