Despite grand ambitions, downtown LA has built precious few skyscrapers in recent years. The major culprits are the economic downturn, a bloated bureaucracy, and a short-staffed planning department, which all help explain why the Wilshire Grand Redevelopment, first proposed in April 2009, took until yesterday to receive approval from the LA Planning Commission.
Nonetheless the approval paves the way for one of the largest projects in LA in years. The $1 billion, 2.5 million square foot, mixed-used complex consists of two large towers on the corner of Wilshire and Figueroa. Built on the site of the current Wilshire Grand Hotel, which will be destroyed, it will include a 45-story tower housing a luxury hotel and residential units, and a 65-story office tower. The two buildings, designed by AC Martin—which has designed several of downtown’s notable skyscrapers— would be connected with a large plaza, while their 275,000 square feet of public space will include shops, a spa, and meeting spaces.
The project’s final sticking point is another clue as to why projects drag on in the city. After a protracted push and pull (and a seven hour meeting yesterday), the planning commission finally called for the building’s LED signage to be reduced to 150 feet or 13 stories, a much smaller footprint than the developer had requested. The department also nixed the idea of upper floor exterior lighting.
Besides the LED signs, the new buildings will have folded glass facades, tapering inward as their height increases (largely a function of their cores shrinking as fewer elevators travel to the top). While details haven’t been finalized, AC Martin principal David Martin said that the hotel would also be clad in a combination of stainless steel and terra cotta, and the office tower would be clad in stainless steel along with photovoltaic-covered sun shades along its south elevation.
The buildings’ glass configurations would change according to their orientation, creating what Martin alternately referred to as “texture” and a “fuzzy character.” “Different patterns will be created by various angles of the sun,” said Martin, who said the buildings will have operable windows. The podium, meanwhile, would be “open and glassy,” welcoming pedestrians instead of presenting monolithic walls.
AC Martin has designed the 52-story Two California Plaza and the 53-story Bank of America Plaza, among many others. Meanwhile the building’s developer, Thomas Properties, has worked on Two California Plaza, the Wells Fargo Tower, Library Tower, and Gas Company Tower. Their partner, Korean Air, owns three hotels in Korea and another in Hawaii. Korean Air Acquired the Wilshire Grand Hotel in 1989. That 1940’s building was designed by architect Welton Becket. But LA Conservancy spokesperson Cindy Olnick told AN that the group doesn’t consider the building a priority “because it’s been so completely altered over the years, even on the exterior. It was very important when it opened as the Statler Center in 1952, but unfortunately, it has virtually no historic integrity left,” she said.
The development team is exploring several funding options, although Martin admits that there is more demand for hotel construction than office construction right now. The developers on Wednesday helped clear their path by announcing a union agreement to give hotel employees of the Wilshire Grand severance and the option to work at the new hotel. The final step in the process comes early next year when LA city council casts its vote.