With the recent news of the Metropolis project being brought back to life, development advocates (myself included) around Downtown are understandably excited. The project is being hailed as a much-needed pedestrian connection between South Park and the Financial district, bridging FIGat7th and L.A. LIVE.
The development potential of Metropolis is surely exciting, but it’s also worth noting that there are a number of issues that must be thoroughly considered before plans are finalized.
The activity at Metropolis will not simply be an extension of activity along Figueroa. This development has the opportunity to create an entirely new pedestrian corridor, but if each side of the development is not carefully considered, Metropolis could become an island mall with severe breaks in its connection to the city around it.
On its north side, Metropolis faces the FIGat7th parking garage. While that center fronts Figueroa, most of the shops are actually underground, with a small plaza on the backside above ground level. There is currently no pedestrian access from FIGat7th to 9th Street. Between the parking garage and the shopping center is a giant pit.
This pit needs to be developed to provide a true connection point between FIGat7th and Metropolis at 8th and Francisco. (It is worth noting that this space is owned by a separate landowner, which will surely complicate my ideas.) It’s a perfect place for green space between the malls, maybe including a small outdoor cafe. The pit will need to be filled in or excavated (the parking garage’s bottom three levels could be expanded into it) and then capped. A wide, terraced staircase can provide the change in elevation to allow pedestrians to reach the ground at 8th St.
To the east of Metropolis, and perhaps most important, is the need to make Francisco St. great for pedestrians. There needs to be space. The east side of the street is only home to parking lots and garages (some of which are more permanent than others), and there is really no need for sidewalk here. The street can be shifted to the east, removing the eastern sidewalk and creating a wider sidewalk on the west side, directly in front of Metropolis. Current plans for the development have done a good job of leaving room for people on this side by not building right up to the property line.
On the north corner, the hotel is set back, with a circular driveway branching off of Francisco St. Access is preserved across the front door of the hotel, inviting people to explore the lobby, pass by it and enter the atrium of the shopping center, or continue south along the street. The driveway also creates an island that can include a grand fountain. There is an open plaza (with a standalone single-level plus rooftop restaurant) on the south side–a design I simply love.
The part that concerns me is the center of the development. These “junior anchor” tenants have a prime location, facing both the interior and the street, yet a parking garage ramp divides the street in half right here. I would move the parking access to the north and south sides of the development, off 8th and 9th Streets (possibly at Georgia, next to the freeway on-ramp, under the freeway off-ramp).
The current drawings do show a vehicular road on the back of the development for parking lot and loading dock access, though not how it will connect to 9th Street. These side streets will be far less pedestrian heavy zones and much more suitable entry locations for cars, allowing fast parking lot access, unbroken pedestrian flow along Francisco and providing retailers with better storefront display and entry space to the east.
The south side of the development presents possibly the biggest challenge. There’s currently a freeway off-ramp crossing the length of the space. Some of the renderings and plan overviews seem to have conveniently left this out, but the ramp is currently being expanded and I doubt will be removed in the next few years. I’ll assume that the ramp must be left as is and worked around, regardless of how much I’d love to create a plan that completely relocates it.
Cars currently have a stop light at this intersection, and moving their limit line back 10 feet or so will not have a negative impact on the ramp. Use this extra space and the extra-wide western sidewalk on Francisco to create a much wider-than-usual crosswalk on the west side of the intersection. If not for number of pedestrians, this will at least be for their safety. Because Francisco is offset at this intersection, it would be great for this crosswalk to cut across 9th Street at an angle, connecting the west side of Francisco to the west side of Francisco south of 9th. The angle may be too great, however, for this to be realistic.
After pedestrians cross the street, there are two Salvation Army buildings, followed by open parking lot until you reach the JW Marriott on Olympic. The lot on the west side of Francisco at Olympic is already slated to become a hotel (Courtyard Marriott / Residence Inn combo). If the space between this hotel and the Salvation Army (currently parking) is converted to a public plaza, the pedestrian link from FIGat7th to Metropolis to L.A. LIVE would truly be complete. The plaza could include public art and/or sculptures, outdoor seating, and greenery.
Adding a public plaza, park and street improvements to the already planned hotel and retail developments will create a new pedestrian corridor that has the potential to see even more foot traffic than Figueroa one block east. If all goes well, this will even draw traffic along 8th and 9th from Figueroa, benefitting restaurants like Magnolia and Corner Bakery that are hidden on these cross streets. Maybe we’ll even get Corner Bakery to stay open for dinner (or that could still be wishful thinking)!
Note: Since first writing this and then going back to see both spaces, I think it may be better to put the plaza near FIGat7th and the park near the hotels. The park would have more space here, and the plaza could better lend itself to the terracing in the northern area. Open for discussion. — Steven White