DTLA – Those who love bikes but aren’t crazy about pedaling are in luck. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has launched a three-month pilot program to test out new electric bikes for its Bike Share network. The 10 electric two-wheelers are in Downtown Los Angeles, and the pilot project launched on Nov. 8. The electric motor complements the cyclists’ own pedal power and can help the bikes reach speeds of up to 17 miles per hour. The electric bikes are priced the same as traditional rides in the Bike Share program — $1.75 for the first 30 minutes — and are available to any Metro pass holder. The bikes can be located on the Metro Bike Share app and are identified by a green and white lightning bolt icon. Those who try the bikes will be asked to take a survey on the experience. More information is at bikeshare.metro.net.
DTLA – Downtown has been waiting for developer Related Companies’ project The Grand for almost 15 years. Now, there is finally evidence that it is happening Work crews have begun tearing down the “Tinker Toy” parking structure at the southeast corner of First Street and Grand Avenue. The structure, which has more than 1,000 spaces and is nicknamed for its resemblance to the creations fashioned out of the children’s toy, was finished in the late 1960s. It was fenced off this month after Related announced it had secured financing to start construction on the Frank Gehry-designed $1 billion project that will hold two towers with 436 residential units, a 309-room Equinox hotel and 215,000 square feet of commercial space. The lot had previously closed ahead of an expected groundbreaking in 2007, but The Grand was set back after the global financial collapse. The Grand is expected to open in 2021.
DTLA – Downtown Los Angeles has experienced monumental growth over the past decade, and one of the world’s leading travel magazines has taken note. Fodor’s Travel has placed the Central City on its list of 52 places to visit in 2019. Dubbed the Go List, the write-up highlights Downtown’s “fashionable hotels, trendy restaurants, Volstead-themed bars and expensive boutiques.” Fodor’s Travel has steered globetrotters toward exciting destinations for more than 80 years. The list was revealed on Nov. 14, and specifically mentions newcomers including the NoMad and Freehand hotels, and cites the beauty of the architecture in the Historic Core. The description is not all sunny, however, as Fodor’s also cites the “calamity of Skid Row that spills out beyond its boundaries.” This is not the first time that Downtown has been lauded as a place to explore. The New York Times placed Downtown on its “52 Places to Go in 2014” list, highlighting its vibrant food scene, including Grand Central Market.
DTLA – Bicyclists are increasingly zipping across nearly all of Downtown Los Angeles, many drawn to the green-striped and protected lines that separate riders on two wheels from those in cars. Yet despite increased pedaling in communities such as the Historic Core and South Park, no one is riding at one of the most inviting areas — along the Los Angeles River.
That could change in the future. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is in the early stage of designing an eight-mile path along the eastern edge of Downtown. The Los Angeles River Bike Path Gap Closure Project would connect two existing paths — one just north of Downtown near Elysian Valley, and the other outside the city of Vernon — creating a 32-mile pedestrian and bicycle route running from the Sepulveda Basin in the San Fernando Valley to downtown Long Beach.
The project is part of the city’s “Twenty-Eight by 28” plan, which seeks to fund and construct 28 transportation projects before Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Summer Olympics.
Metro held a public meeting at Union Station on Nov. 8 to present information on the project and seek public input. Approximately 30 people attended the session, where the chief concerns included questions of safety, accessibility and equal space for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The project is in the planning phase. The second stage, which includes the environmental review and permitting process, is expected to begin next spring. During that period, four route designs will be created.
Jacobs Engineering Group and Alta Planning + Design won a contract in July to perform environmental studies and create initial designs.
The aim is to break ground in 2023. The path’s forecasted opening is between 2025 and 2027.
“This is a big walking and biking project,” Metro project manager Julia Salinas said during the public event. “Los Angeles County has not had anything close to this sort of project before.”
Early estimates set the price at $365 million. Salinas said the high cost is due to potential construction and infrastructure challenges along the route, including needing to work around or incorporate train tracks, rail yards and old Los Angeles Department of Water and Power high-voltage lines.
A 2016 feasibility study estimated the construction cost at approximately $200 million to $320 million, including contingency, planning, engineering and permitting costs.
The river channel itself poses issues. Along some portions of the path, the channel is vertically walled, which, according to the feasibility study, provides little to no room on the riverbank for the path, and would require the construction of elevated or cantilevered sections.
In other portions of the river path, bridge crossings, such as the Broadway Bridge, have been deemed historic and would require augmentation to preserve the structures’ original characteristics. The feasibility study indicates 10 bridges along the river route designated by the city as Historic-Cultural Monuments.
The project is set to receive funding through Measure M, which was approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2016 to pay for regional transportation projects. It was one of the first efforts to be earmarked for potential funding.
During the Union Station event, Salinas noted four similar projects that Metro used as base comparisons during the feasibility study. These included the Light Path in Auckland, New Zealand, and a bike path along the east bank of the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon.
The closest project, the $100 million Coachella Valley Link, will run 50 miles and will connect eight cities once completed. The first segment opened in 2018.
Lyndsey Nolan, policy director at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, said that she believes that once completed, the path will spark an increase in bicycle ridership.
“At the very least, the people who already bike to work will be more protected,” Nolan said. “Right now I have a lot of friends and co-workers who would like to commute, but they don’t feel safe, or the route is way out of their way.”
Downtown resident Bradley Stokes welcomed the plan, and said he would ride along the path once construction is complete.
“The Olympics are a long ways away, but I can’t imagine not using the path once it’s done,” Stokes said. “It won’t change my work commute, but it’ll give me another reason to take my bike for the weekend.”
Community outreach is ongoing. According to Metro Community Relations Manager Michael Cortez, prior to the Nov. 8 Union Station event, Metro had reached out to 3,500 people through surveys and events.
Dave Sotero, Metro’s communications manager, said community meetings are also scheduled for early next year, though none have yet been scheduled.
Information on the project is at metro.net/projects/lariverpath.
DTLA – More than 20 Los Angeles apparel manufacturers and companies, most located in the Downtown Fashion District, have launched an online commerce site.
FashionDomino.com is a wholesale fashion site with products in numerous styles The idea came from members of the Korean American Apparel Manufacturers Association, which is centered on San Pedro Street in the Fashion District, according to Yul Kwon, head of the group. Kwon said that the move is a response to high rates charged for online ads on existing e-commerce sites.
“We had to start our own marketplace, for manufacturers by manufacturers,” he said.
The site launched earlier this year and is intended to complement brick and mortar showrooms, not replace them, Kwon said.
DTLA – A key City Council committee last week approved a proposal to expand the Convention Center and the adjacent J.W. Marriott hotel, including plans to allow the developer to keep almost $100 million in taxes generated by the project.
Anschutz Entertainment Group, which developed Staples Center and L.A. Live and operates the Convention Center under an agreement with the city, is working on a $1.2 billion plan with the aim of luring more conventions and travelers. The city Chief Legislative Analyst’s office, using a report from the firm Keyser Marston Associates, found that the project has a $119.4 million funding gap. It recommends allowing AEG to keep $97.7 million — mainly in the 14% transient occupancy tax charged to those staying in hotels — over a 25-year period.
The council’s Economic Development Committee approved the proposal on Tuesday, Nov. 13. It next goes to the council’s Budget and Finance Committee and could reach the full council this week.
AEG is seeking the public assistance specifically for the construction of an 850-room hotel. The 40-story building is budgeted at $700 million, and would provide meeting and event space in addition to the guest rooms. Under the proposal, AEG could keep half of the TOT tax generated over a quarter-century, with the remainder going to the city.
The need for public assistance stems from a hotel meant to accommodate large groups, according to Ted Fikre, vice chairman of AEG. That requires the construction of more ancillary space and meeting rooms than the average hotel.
“Construction of all the facilities drives development costs much higher,” Fikre said. “Then from an operating standpoint, being a full-service hotel makes it more expensive.”
AEG announced the proposal for the fully privately financed project in May. It would link the Convention Center’s currently separated South and West halls, creating 800,000 square feet of contiguous events space. Overall, the $500 million plan would create 350,000 square feet of new facility space. The Gilbert Lindsay Plaza outside the Convention Center would become a 140,000-square-foot green space.
The city would not pay any money upfront for the Convention Center expansion, and instead would negotiate an agreement with AEG’s development partner, Plenary Group, which would front the design and construction costs. The city would make annual payments once the work is completed. The exact amount and length of the payments are still to be determined, as a financial plan for the expansion must be completed.
The hotel, pitched as an expansion of the existing 878-room J.W. Marriott (a Ritz-Carlton hotel also in the existing tower holds 123 rooms), would rise on a current parking deck behind L.A. Live. A sky bridge would link the hotel to the Convention Center.
Fikre said the hotel and Convention Center project must proceed at the same time for the project to be feasible.
The project would help the city reach its goal of having 8,000 hotel rooms within a quarter mile of the Convention Center, according to John Wickham of the CLA’s office, who presented the report to the Economic Development Committee. He said the project would make Los Angeles more competitive in the regional convention market, and specifically said it would help the city land medical conventions.
Doane Liu, executive director for the city Department of Convention and Tourism Development, echoed Wickham, saying the improvements would allow Los Angeles to secure more and different types of conventions.
“The biggest thing holding us back right now is the lack of contiguous space,” Liu said. “We currently have two separate halls, and this would create one large contiguous space, which gives planners more flexibility.”
Liu said approving the expansion plan would have an immediate impact, as convention organizers plan their large gatherings five to 10 years in advance.
If the city green-lights the development incentives, AEG still has to close an approximately $20 million gap in the budget. The CLA report posited adding a $25-per-night “destination fee” to hotel guests’ bills. Fikre said that is being discussed.
Development incentives for hotels are common in Downtown. Most recently, the city signed off on a deal for developer Lightstone’s two-tower, 1,130-room project at Figueroa Street and Pico Boulevard. It would allow Lightstone to keep $67 million in taxes over the course of 25 years.
The awarding of incentives has drawn criticism from some, including City Controller Ron Galperin. In an August report, Galperin said the city has approved $1 billion in incentives for developers since 2005. The report called for greater transparency and a coordinated framework for providing any future incentive.
Fikre acknowledged the concerns, and said that the CLA and Keyser Marston Associates heavily scrutinized AEG’s proposal.
“We fully understand the spirit of the Controller’s report and the press scrutiny,” Fikre said. “The city staff, from my vantage point, has been vigilant to make sure we do need the subsidy, that we’re not overstating the gap, or overstating the benefits.”
If the city approves the framework of the deal, a year of negotiations and pre-development work would follow, Fikre said. Much of the work would involve the Convention Center, including advancing the design and getting more concrete cost estimates.
The goal is to break ground in 2020 and open the hotel and Convention Center expansion in 2022.
DTLA – Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma is known for sinking shots in front of cheering crowds at Staples Center. Last week, he traveled a few blocks west of the arena for an event with a smaller, shorter, but equally enthusiastic audience. On Tuesday, Nov. 13, Kuzma showed up at the unveiling and dedication of two updated basketball courts at 10th Street Elementary School. They were renovated thanks to a $26,000 grant from UnitedHealthcare, and the work includes resurfacing both courts, replacing backboards and rims, and donating equipment. The 10th Street Elementary School, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, was founded in 1888, and is one of the oldest schools in the city.
DTLA – As part of an effort to boost transit use, the City Council recently approved the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s proposal to expand DASH service in the Arts District and other neighborhoods. One of the biggest components of the plan is the addition of new schedules and increased frequency for DASH buses in the quickly growing neighborhood. The expansion will take place in two phases. The first, starting early next year, will see Saturday and Sunday service added to routes that currently lack it, plus earlier starting hours. The second phase, later in 2019, will increase the frequency of service to every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends. More information is at ladottransit.com.
DTLA – Yet another big project is being planned for Chinatown. Last week, documents were filed for a 27-story residential tower at 942 N. Broadway.
The high-rise would have 178 units (5% set aside as very low income housing), plus 36,805 square feet of commercial space. The site in the heart of the community currently holds a one-story commercial building, which would have to be razed. The project applicant is listed as Rick Ilich, president of the Vancouver-based development company Townline.
No timeline or budget have been announced. It’s the second high-rise to be proposed for the core of Chinatown in recent months, following a 26-story project at 643 N. Spring St. from the French investment firm Compagnie de Phalsbourg.
DTLA – One of most ambitious public transit undertakings in Los Angeles County reached a milestone last week.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it has hit the halfway point on the Regional Connector, a $1.77 billion project that will streamline cross-county rail travel by enabling people to ride from Santa Monica to East Los Angeles and Azusa to Long Beach without having to change trains. The work involves extensive tunneling in Downtown Los Angeles, along with the creation of three new stations. Metro was set to celebrate the construction milestone with a “Halfway There” event on Saturday, May 19 (after Los Angeles Downtown News went to press) in Little Tokyo. The community is the site of extensive construction for the project, including a new station that will open at First Street and Central Avenue.
The project is on pace for completion in December 2021.
“This project is unique,” said Gary Baker, project manager for the Regional Connector. “Normally, you build and extend outward. For this one, it’s the opposite.”
The project has been in the works since 2007, and construction began in 2014. The work involves digging a pair of 1.9-mile tunnels that will connect Metro’s Blue, Expo and Gold lines in Downtown.
According to Metro’s estimates, the Regional Connector will increase ridership across the entire transportation system by 17,000 people per day, while saving commuters an average of 20-30 minutes by reducing the need to travel to other transit stations or to transfer onto different lines.
Metro’s 1,000-ton boring machine, named Angeli, completed the tunnels in one year. Angeli displaced approximately 400 feet of rock and rubble per day.
Once the first tunnel was completed, the machine had to be completely disassembled, then moved back to the starting point in Little Tokyo to begin the second tunnel.
Construction has not been without snags. The route passes through some of Los Angeles’ oldest streets.
Baker said that construction was halted at times as workers bumped up against almost 100-year-old water and electrical lines. Metro worked with various utility companies to devise a plan to either remove the components, or completely rebuild them if necessary.
“One of the lessons learned is that knowing where things are isn’t good enough,” Baker said. “We also need to know what condition things are in.”
Metro received $670 million for the project from a federal grant, with an additional $160 million provided through a loan with the caveat that the work be completed by May of 2021. According to Metro, the loan allows for deadline extensions for “unforeseen circumstances.” An additional $940 million comes from a combination of state bonds and funding from Measure R, which was passed by county voters in 2008 to support mass-transit projects.
The project was initially budgeted at $1.35 billion, but costs have steadily risen.
The underground Little Tokyo station will replace a street-level Gold Line station. Another station is being built at Second Street and Broadway, accessible to the Historic Core and the Civic Center. The final station is on Bunker Hill, at Second and Hope streets, and will provide easy access to The Broad, Walt Disney Concert Hall and other attractions on Grand Avenue.
On Monday, May 14, Metro officials showed off progress on the soon-to-be completed Little Tokyo Station as part of an event dubbed Infrastructure Week. Activities during the sixth annual happening, intended to highlight infrastructure deficiencies across the country, and the response to those problems, took place on the East and West Coast.
In Little Tokyo, approximately 20 local stakeholders were provided with boots, a hard hat, goggles and gloves, and were led down a winding, almost erector set-like flight of stairs, into a cavernous construction pit. Massive slabs of concrete and other building materials were stacked to one side, waiting to be fashioned into the eventual subterranean station.
Baker led groups into the 19 1/2-foot tall tunnels. The tunnels are constructed with massive, rectangular-shaped sections of concrete that appear as if they were snapped together like perfectly fitted puzzle pieces.
The train tracks have yet to be installed; the lack of tracks allowed the tour to freely traverse the tunnels.
Only a few workers were visible in the pit. A Metro official said that 250 people are currently working on the project in Downtown at any given time.