Broad's Grand Plans

Broad's Grand Plans

Could the protracted battle over LA philanthropist Eli Broad’s proposed art museum finally be over?


Martha Welborne, Managing Director of the Grand Avenue Committee, which advises on development of The Grand, the giant mixed-use project in Downtown LA, has told The Architect’s Newspaper that Broad wants to locate his new art museum within the project.

"He tells us it is his first choice. He’s working hard to get it done," said Welborne.

The proposed museum, which would display works from the Broad Foundation’s considerable contemporary art collection and contain its administrative offices, would be located on the site of two parking lots just south of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and across the street from the LA Museum of Contemporary Art and The Colburn School.

The site is currently slated for retail development within phase 2 of the now-stalled 3.5 million-square-foot, Gehry Partners-designed Grand, also known as the Grand Avenue Project. The project, developed by the Related Companies, has yet to begin construction, and Welborne said that, because of the economic downturn, Related has expressed a strong willingness to replace some retail (more than 100,000 square feet is currently planned) with a large cultural component.

“There’s been enough of a change that they saw the amount of retail was not viable,” Welborne said of the developer. Related representatives could not be reached for comment.

Welborne said that Broad is funding preliminary work to get the museum project started, including a revision to the Environmental Impact Report for The Grand as it pertains to the scope of development. By Welborne’s estimate, the necessary changes could take about three months to complete.

Broad’s foundation, meanwhile, insists that it has not made a decision on the project. “We’re still considering three locations and Grand Avenue is one of them,” foundation spokesperson Karen Denne told AN.

Indeed, even if Broad does intend to land in downtown, the move is far from a done deal.

First there are the necessary approvals for the revised EIR and a new Disposition and Development Agreement from the Grand Avenue Authority, a joint-powers authority uniting the County of Los Angeles and the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles. Related would also have to assign development rights to Broad, who would need to sign a ground lease. An architect would need to be chosen for the museum—Morphosis is rumored to be the frontrunner—and the project would need to secure subsequent entitlements.

But if Welborne is right and all goes according to plan, it would put to rest the much-publicized candidacies of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica for the museum. Broad had been investigating a site at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards in Beverly Hills and one on land facing Main Street between the Santa Monica Courthouse and Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica. The two cities had seemed like the frontrunners until the Grand Avenue possibility surfaced in recent weeks.

“It makes a lot of sense,” said Welborne of the museum’s likely location on Grand Avenue. “Eli has invested so much in Grand Ave. with his philanthropy, be it with MOCA, with the Disney Concert Hall, the Performing Arts High School, or the Grand Avenue Project itself.”

“It would be a cultural anchor for the city and for the Grand project,” she added.

If Related’s piece of the project goes forward, it would take up three city blocks, including an open-air plaza and two mixed-use towers by Gehry Partners. But that is a big if. The Grand Avenue Authority recently extended the deadline for Related to begin construction to February 2011, and Gehry, in an interview last March on the occasion of his 80th birthday, admitted to AN that he doubted the project would ever be completed. Asked about its prospects, Welborne simply said, "I don’t know."