Downtown LA’s Arts District is taking off, and for many the symbol has become Michael Maltzan’s huge One Santa Fe, the long, snaking mixed-use building rising on the neighborhood’s northern edge. But on the district’s southern edge is Alameda Square, a much bigger development—three times the size in fact, at 1.5 million square feet—that really shows this gritty area’s staying power.
Developed by real estate private equity firm Evoq Properties (the successor to now-bankrupt development company Meruelo Maddux), Alameda Square includes the redevelopment of four 1916 factory buildings on the corner of Alameda and 7th streets containing, famously, the workshops and headquarters for American Apparel, Dov Charney’s controversial made-in-LA clothing company. The behemoth pink and beige structures, each slightly different, were first built by the Southern Pacific Railroad and were later used for food processing and packaging by S.E. Rykoff.
Shimoda Design Group is designing the master plan for the compound. The architecture firm, led by Joey Shimoda, has built a reputation for its office and adaptive reuse projects around the country. Its own studios are just down the street, on Traction Street.
The focus of the complex—linking the Arts District with downtown’s nearby Fashion District—will be fashion, bringing together shops, high-end offices, and even manufacturing. American Apparel’s buildings, totaling about 800,000 square feet, will stay, containing factory floors, stores, and offices. The other two buildings, totaling about 600,000 square feet, will be renovated by designers chosen by each tenant and will contain offices and light, clothing-related manufacturing. Office tenants so far include fashion brands Splendid, Ella Moss, and Groceries. Several other leases are in negotiation, said Tyler Stonebreaker, co-founder at Creative Space, a development partner on the project.
In the center of the complex, Shimoda has developed conceptual plans for a public green space and a large metal and plastic-clad tent containing glass-enclosed retail stalls. Just beyond the tent, Shimoda envisions a series of shipping containers containing more retail. Shimoda said that the tent and containers would give sellers the ability to start up quite quickly. Those facilities could be ready in as little as a year.
Shimoda’s scheme places a new 1,800- to 2,600-space car parking structure at the east of the site, connected to the complex via large, shaft-like, raised walkways. Much of the design, such as the large truss signs and the graphics, designed by Matthew Foster, will reference the site’s industrial history. “We wanted it to speak to the neighborhood that it was a part of,” said Stonebreaker.
The scheme is flexible, since demand for the project could shift quickly. The campus could stay relatively small or keep expanding, said Stonebreaker, while uses within each building could change. “It doesn’t happen linearly,” he said. Shimoda plans to keep the open spaces between the buildings open for now, but may convert them to retail, depending on interest. Currently there are plans for up to 126,000 square feet of retail on the site—including fashion retailers, restaurants, and food trucks—but the exact uses will only become clear after the space has been used for a while and nodes of interest are determined.
“You can’t predict the use of the space or the growth of the retail and office markets,” said Shimoda. Due to the evolving nature of the plans, it’s impossible to predict the total size and cost of the project, added Stonebreaker.
In order to lure more tenants and open up more space, the team will also need to replace an aging DWP transformer now providing the site’s power. The complex could expand west to include vacant portions of the adjacent 7th Street Produce Market, which occupies two long buildings that are some of the largest continuous spaces in the city.
While much of the financing is in place, and some tenants are getting ready to move in, several of the project plans, and any zoning changes, still need to be approved by city planning. “I think this is a real turning point in making legitimate, big, creative space in this area. Up in this point it’s been small and spread out,” said Shimoda. “I think this feels like (New York’s) Meatpacking District did maybe 25 years ago, but it’s going to be a much more accelerated change.”