High-profile L.A. residential tower unveiled
By Roger Vincent, Times Staff Writer
2:02 PM PDT, May 7, 2007
Plans for a $1 billion twin tower condominium complex overlooking Pershing Square park in downtown Los Angeles were unveiled Monday by developers who expect to build the tallest residential building west of Chicago.
At 76 stories, the taller of the two towers would dramatically alter the city's skyline and rival in height the U.S. Bank office skyscraper. The project, named Park Fifth, also calls for a 14-story five-star hotel, fronting on the park across from the historic Biltmore Hotel.
The project joins several other massive downtown developments planned from Staples Center to Bunker Hill. The two blue-green glass condo towers would rise above the hotel, with the shorter tower reaching 43 stories.
"This is the first time in 30 years that all the stars have lined up" enough to start building Park Fifth, said Los Angeles developer David Houk, who began acquiring the land in the 1970s.
The project already has its supporters and its doubters.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who supports Park Fifth, says the building will be a boost for downtown.
"It has the great potential of becoming this iconic structure that is high-profile enough" to redefine the city's skyline, she said, and the location is appropriate for dense development.
"It's right smack dab in the midst of places where people work -- the Jewelry Mart, central business district and Bunker Hill," she said. "There's a lots of jobs within a 15-minute walk."
The project would stand at 5th and Olive streets on the site of the former Philharmonic Auditorium, which was razed in the 1980s to make way for an office and hotel complex. The demand for offices collapsed in the early 1990s and downtown has been burdened by an oversupply ever since.
But a burst of residential development in recent years has added thousands of apartments and condominiums downtown and billions of dollars worth of entertainment, shopping and hotel construction is underway or scheduled to start this year. After decades of blacklisting the area, lenders are again making loans for downtown developments.
Houk says he now has committed financial partners, most of the required development permits and has begun work on a new environmental impact report. Construction could start as soon as early 2008 and the smaller tower including the hotel could be open by 2010, he said.
The property would have six floors of underground parking to serve residents and hotel guests.
The project is drawing its doubters from people who wonder where there is a market for another huge new housing complex downtown.
Adding new downtown housing is a risk, market observers said. "There is a huge supply that far exceeds demand" at the moment, said real estate broker Stephen May of Downtown Residential Real Estate, who estimates more than 400 units are for sale.
Prices are holding level, he said, but may come down in future months as more new units hit the market and create competition.
"People wonder if this is the right time" to announce a large housing development, said economist Jack Kyser of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "Downtown is overbuilt and some other projects are grinding to a halt."
But the housing market could be thriving again by 2010, he said, and the Park Fifth gamble could pay off. A project of that size -- 732 condos and 218 hotel rooms -- "would pull the center of gravity downtown a little further to the east" and boost the appeal of the blocks around long-suffering Pershing Square, Kyser said.
The city's oldest park has long been a draw for the homeless and its walled setting above an underground garage sets it apart from the streets that surround it. Park Fifth's developers hope to help pay for improvements to Pershing Square, said Rich Marr of Brentwood-based Namco Capital Group Inc., one of Houk's financial partners.
"We are laying the groundwork" for possible upgrades to the square, said Perry.
The complex would also be connected directly with the underground Pershing Square subway station. As designed by New York architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, it would wrap around the Title Guarantee Building, a 12-story art deco style office tower completed in 1930 and now being converted to apartments.
Park Fifth would also have a 15th floor garden with two outdoor swimming pools. At street level there would be restaurants and stores. Although the taller tower would have more floors than the 72-story U.S. Bank Tower two blocks away, it would be shorter in height because residential stories are not as high as office stories.
A spokeswoman for Maguire Properties Inc., owner of U.S. Bank Tower, said the company "welcomes the addition to the downtown skyline" and that Park Fifth would "bring critical mass and further enhance the central business district."
Park Fifth developers promise to bring what could be the third five-star hotel for downtown, which hasn't had a top-class hostelry for decades. No operator has been selected for the hotel in Park Fifth, but Mandarin Oriental has agreed to be part of the $2 billion Grand Avenue project, set to break ground this year, and Ritz Carlton will manage a hotel at the $2.5 billion L.A. Live project under construction near Staples Center.
Houk, the Park Fifth developer, is a former owner of the Pasadena Playhouse and bought the Variety Arts Center on South Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles last year with the intention of restoring the historic theater and reopening it as an entertainment venue.
Investor Namco Capital Group owns commercial and residential property in Southern California, including the Marriott Los Angeles Downtown hotel. Also investing in the project is Africa Israel Investments Ltd., a publicly traded development company based in Israel.