It seems like only yesterday that over 20 high-rises planned for downtown Los Angeles—including KPF’s Park Fifth, a coupling of 76- and 41-story skyscrapers that would have been the tallest on the West Coast—were scuttled by the Great Recession.
As the economy gets back into shape, and the area once again becomes a hot address, that impulse for height has picked up where it left off. Now the focus is South Park, on the southern edge of downtown. The neighborhood, anchored by the Staples Center, LA Live!, and the LA Convention Center, has a batch of more than ten towers in the works, and many more planned in the vicinity.
The biggest new projects are Figueroa Central, RTKL’s mixed-use complex at 1101 South Flower, consisting of one 49-story and two 40-story towers; and Harley Ellis Devereaux’s Fig South, consisting of two 29-story towers at 1200 South Figueroa. Other planned skyscrapers nearby include 1130 South Hope, a 28-story tower being developed by Amacon Construction; 820 Olive Street, a 50-story tower developed by Omni Group; 801 South Olive, a 27-story high rise by Carmel Partners; and a complex still under wraps by Mack Urban and AC Martin at 1142 South Grand.
Just beyond that are AC Martin and Korean Air’s 73-story Wilshire Grand, on the southern edge of the financial district, slated to be the tallest building on the West Coast, and Gensler and Greenland’s Metropolis, a development at the boundary of South Park that includes a 38-story residential tower and a 19-story hotel.
Outside of the economic recovery, reasons for the boom in the South Park area are numerous, said Jessica Lall, executive director of the South Park Business Improvement District. LA Live! and Staples have driven growth and demand for complementary facilities; the area’s many parking lots represent rare development opportunities in built out downtown; South Park is adjacent to transit like the Blue Line, the new Expo Line, and the upcoming Regional Connector, supporting high density growth; and nearby USC is the biggest employer in Southern California, necessitating housing and services. The trend of people moving to urban cores has supported more residential towers, and because it is not a historic area, there are fewer restrictions to building here, and lots are larger than in other parts of the city. “It’s more of a blank slate to build, and to build tall,” said Lall. “There’s more ability to be flexible here.”
Lall said her BID has been involved with local leaders in crafting an urban design district task force, improving sidewalks, signage, trees, public art, and other amenities around buildings. As for the buildings themselves, their design is guided largely through the Central City’s comprehensive design guidelines.
To maintain flexibility and creativity, the guidelines are not prescriptive, said Simon Pastucha, head of the Urban Design Studio at the Los Angeles Department of City Planning. “We want to spur creativity and innovation in design,” he said. But designers need to stay within their larger framework to gain approval.
Such creativity may continue to expand with the September code change allowing for city structures to avoid flat tops for helipads, although the newest group of towers were already designed before that change passed. Pastucha suspects some designs may now be changed, depending on economic feasibility, and Kevin Keller, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s director of planning, said more upcoming buildings look set to take advantage of the new rules.
But the city’s codes still highly restrict overall building massing and floorplate sizes, said Pastucha, putting continued limits on originality. Pastucha is not worried about increases in traffic in the area, given its access to all types of mass transit. “This is a regional center and it’s going to be a very busy area. Hopefully the residents are more sophisticated in understanding where they’re living,” he said.
As for the possibility of South Park overheating? “I see a buildup of pressure. The area is ready for this type of development. Everything is falling into place and there are very few places in the country where you can do this kind of development. If you look at other major U.S. cities, we are just catching up,” said Pastucha.