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Los Angeles Downtown News
June 26, 2006

A Half-Billion Dollar Baby
CRA Approves Plan to Build Three Towers and
875 Condominiums Near Financial District

A 38-story tower, 875 condominiums and a public paseo lined with stores are just part of the plan for a proposed $500 million, three-phase project that would fill an empty lot at Eighth Street and Grand Avenue.

Developer Sonny Astani plans to build three condominium towers on the lot at Eighth Street and Grand Avenue. The $500 million project will include a public paseo. Rendering by AVRP.
Beverly Hills-based developer Sonny Astani, who has already broken ground on one major Downtown project, received the Community Redevelopment Agency's go-ahead for the massive development on June 15. The project now heads to City Council, which is expected to vote on it in early July. If the council gives the thumbs-up, Astani hopes to break ground within 18 months.

"Not every project in Downtown happens," Hamid Behdad, a representative of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said at the meeting. "But this one is real."

The project would represent a huge investment in the southern portion of the Financial District, creating more than 1 million square feet of housing and nearly 1,500 parking spaces. It would fill a lot between Grand and Olive on the north side of Eighth Street and consist of three structures.

The first stage of construction would deliver a pair of 15-story buildings with a total of 425 units wrapping around an elevated courtyard. According to documents filed with the CRA, there would be 245 one-bedroom condominiums, with the remainder being two-bedroom units. The structure would hold 1,115 parking spaces (including three underground levels) and have retail on the ground floor.

The second stage, which would break ground after the first phase is complete, would be a 22-story mid-rise that opens to Olive Street. The 180-unit building would feature 40 one-bedroom and 140 two-bedroom condos. It would also have ground floor retail and three underground parking levels.

The final phase would be the 38-story high-rise. It would create 270 units (the majority two-bedroom residences) along with 7,200 square feet of ground floor retail and amenities and three levels of subterranean parking.

The documents filed with the CRA also reveal that the project will feature sustainable design elements. Altogether, plans call for 36,000 square feet of retail and a 31,000-square-foot courtyard.

On the north end of the block, facing Seventh Street, developers are working on turning the Brockman Building into 80 condominiums (an effort to transform the adjacent Coulter and Mandell buildings into apartments appears to have stalled). A public walkway will cut through the new compound, connecting Grand and Olive and featuring shops and restaurants.

"We are extremely happy with the retail going in," said Victor Franco, vice president of government affairs for the Central City Association, who noted that the walkway would break up the block and help activate street life. "The retail is not just for those who live there. It will serve everybody in the area."

Renderings by architecture firm AVRP show a contemporary glass and steel tower. In the designs, balconies undulate over the glass walls of the mid-rise buildings, which flank a curving, all-glass tower.

Darryl Yamamoto, design principal of the project, said the firm is also including elements that reference the historical buildings around the site.

"We tried to align the base, middle and top of the building with classical design to match the buildings around us," Yamamoto told the CRA board of commissioners.

Surrounding Community

The site has been a parking lot for decades. It is near several new Downtown Los Angeles residential developments, including the Sky Lofts at 801 S. Grand Ave., and the under-construction Market Lofts and Ralphs supermarket rising at Ninth and Flower streets. The Los Angeles Athletic Club, Pershing Square, numerous restaurants and bars including the thriving Roy's on Figueroa Street, and a Red Line stop are all within walking distance.

"If you compare this to other projects being built, urbanistically, the community is already there," Astani said.

Astani is pursuing private funding for the project, meaning no affordable housing units are required. However, the developer pledged to contribute $1.5 million to the Skid Row Housing Trust to help the non-profit organization pay for two new low-income housing projects.

"This gives us a great opportunity and a lot of certainty that we can move forward with these projects as scheduled," said Mike Alvidrez, executive director of the Skid Row Housing Trust.

The trust is heading the development of two SRO buildings, the 76-unit Cobb Apartments and the 115-unit Abbey Apartments on San Pedro Street. Alvidrez said the trust needs $1.5 million to complete the facilities, which will house chronically ill homeless people and feature enriched services.

Astani said he wanted to donate money to an organization where he could see direct results, and will write the check as soon as he reaches an agreement with the city.

"Some developers say, 'Okay, I'll give them money when I get my building permit, which could be a year away," Astani said. "This way, even if it takes 18 months to get construction started on my project, these two other projects will already be completed."

The budget calls for $5 million to be spent on artwork, part of the city requirement that 1% of a development's cost goes to public art. Astani said he would also fund the planting of 129 trees within a half-mile of the site. This is in addition to the 89 trees that will be within the project grounds.

"Mr. Astani has a track record of great projects and does a great job contributing to the area," said Franco. "This sends a message to other developers if they want to go this route."

Pacific Atlas Development Corp. bought the property in 1990 and received city approvals to develop two office towers, an open-air plaza and a hotel. But after the downturn in the economy in the early 1990s, the project was shelved. In 2005, Astani bought the 129,000-square-foot lot for a reported $38 million.

Astani is responsible for about 5,000 units in Los Angeles, including the Concerto, which broke ground last month at the corner of Ninth and Figueroa streets. That project, which took two years to make its way through the city approval process, is scheduled to open in 2008. The Concerto will offer two 27-story residential towers and one five-story mixed-use building, creating a total of 619 units, along with 27,500 square feet of retail and a 2,510-square-foot park.

Another Astani project, at Wilshire and Bixel in City West, will hold 200 units, 30 of them priced as affordable housing. The development is under construction and occupancy is scheduled for the fall.

Altogether, Astani is working on plans to create nearly 1,700 units in Downtown, making him one of the area's biggest developers.

"If buildings don't get built," he said, "the city loses money and jobs, and homeowners stay renters."

Kathleen Nye Flynn at kathleen@downtownnews.com.


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