“Ava Little Tokyo” Mixed-Use Project to Break Ground in Late 2012 in Downtown LA

Avalon Bay plans to develop a new apartment complex called “Ava Little Tokyo” on two parcels in Little Tokyo (Photo Inset: Thomas P Cox Architects)

Last Wednesday in a presentation to the Little Tokyo community leaders, developer AvalonBay Communities, Inc. detailed their latest plans to build two mixed-use projects (residential over commercial) on two parcels within the 6-acre “Block 8″ development site in Little Tokyo — bounded by 2nd, Los Angeles, and San Pedro.

Avalon Bay is a national apartment developer with over 50,000 units across the country. They plan to develop two parcels at 2nd and Los Angeles St into 280 total market-rate apartments for rent in two separate mixed-use buildings.  Layouts will include studios, one, two, and three bedrooms. Construction on the first phase will be at the intersection of 2nd and Los Angeles St where 104 rentals will rise in 6 stories. The second phase just south of phase one, also at 6 stories, will consist of 176 units and will break ground not long after the first phase according to the rep from Avalon Bay.

The project is being designed by Thomas P Cox Architects (TCA). Renderings presented at the meeting were asked not to be photographed by the developer. Nevertheless, the older rendering of the project (seen above and also designed by TCA) is very similar to the new design with some minor alterations, such as a new plaza for the intersection. Basically, you’ll still get an idea what the project will look like by viewing the older rendering.

The entire project is currently dubbed “Ava Little Tokyo” (originally known as “Matsu” back in 2007) and will have a total of 20,000 square feet of retail space fronting both 2nd and Los Angeles St. When completed, the corner intersection will have a square-shaped plaza that could be used for outdoor dining if a restaurant ends up leasing the corner commercial space. According to the developer, “Ava” is a new moniker Avalon Bay is calling their “urban projects.”

Block 8 is divided into 4 separate parcels (A, B, C, D) where Ava Little Tokyo will be developed on Parcels A and B, divided by a private street named Toyo Miyatake Way. So far, only Parcel C has been successfully developed into 230 rental apartments known as Sakura Crossing completed in 2009. Parcel D was recently purchased by Sares-Regis from Related (escrow closed this month) with plans to develop their own mixed-use project. You may remember Sares-Regis developed the massive Westgate Apartments in Pasadena.

According to the rep from Avalon Bay, permits for construction have been filed and they plan to break ground as early as fall of this year. When completed in late 2014 (approximately 2 years), Ava Little Tokyo will be the most important urban connection between Little Tokyo and the Historic Core, currently two districts severed from each other by the massive anti-pedestrian surface parking lot. The new buildings will add hundreds of new residents to Little Tokyo and also help activate the sidewalks with new retail and restaurants. Finally, two districts in Downtown LA will begin to fully meld together, forming a powerful synergy that pushes our urban center toward urban maturity.

Block 8 is divided into 4 parcels where the new Ava Little Tokyo will be constructed on parcels A and B along Los Angeles and 2nd Street (Photo: Google Map)

By the end of 2014 when Ava Little Tokyo is completed, this ugly intersection at 2nd and Los Angeles St will be transformed into a vibrant corner that will be activated instead of dead

The intersection at 2nd and Los Angeles St will be dramatically improved when Ava Little Tokyo is completed, helping to form a strong pedestrian connection between Little Tokyo and the rest of Downtown LA

41 responses to ““Ava Little Tokyo” Mixed-Use Project to Break Ground in Late 2012 in Downtown LA

  1. This is such awesome news! That block along 2nd is such a wasteland right now. And the sooner the better for parcel D as well.

  2. This is great news, but once again another 6 story wooden structure. Everything in L.A. is 6 stories now, I don’t understand why that is.

  3. Great news! In addition to filling that huge gap, this project will help Los Angeles St gentrify.

  4. I’m glad to hear this is still happening. I was excited about this project years ago. I do hope they plan for parking though.

  5. 6 stories is great. I’d be very happy with a downtown that’s mostly 6 stories. Just like Paris, Berlin, London, and many other fantastic cosmopolitain cities. Wood construction is more affordable, meaning more projects will pencil out, and more dead zones get filled in with sufficient density for urban maturity instead of high rises over parking podiums surrounded by a concrete wasteland.

  6. @ Matthew, well are downtown is not like those other cities as you can see.

  7. I agree with sebastian. Another wasted opportunity to build a taller structure instead of low-rise sprawled out underutilized spaces. Might be more affordable for the developers now, but not for future residents as downtown grows.

  8. real estate guy

    FYI – The other two parcels on this site are slated for taller / concrete / steel buildings. The reason that you see mid rise wood structures being built and not taller concrete and steel structures these days is economics or otherwise know as the feasibility of the project. Only wood structures make any financial sense these days at current rent levels to the developers and lenders. That is why the taller projects are still on hold. Its a great area and more reasonable for rents and sales prices than the Staples Area at this time. Some would voice complaints if they heard the high rents needed to build a high rise there I am sure. I am not associated with the developer but have been educated with a masters degree in this area fyi. It looks like a well designed interesting project. I think most will be happy with it and it will be an attractive place to live. The area and merchants will benefit from it. High rise will get there someday. Its a step by step process.

    • Yes, feasibility in a financial sense does seem to make sense, doesn’t it? But look at what happened to suburban sprawl and the effects of greenhouse gases, traffic gridlocks, and lack of community. It was the feasibility of cheap projects, good profits, and the idea of owning your own home that have resulted in huge parking lots (like this one that Ava will be built on). It seems like thinking only about finance without a sense of long-term city planning is ok. It is not. Sure, this project makes sense now, but I do wish that the city plays a more active role in working with developers from a LONG-TERM PLANNING perspective. Seems like most people don’t mind the 6 stories, but like what sebastian mentions, L.A. is like no other city. And comparing these low-rise buildings to Europe doesn’t encapsulate the history and culture of European communities. London and Paris are much more older than Los Angeles and the lifestyles there are far different than the suburban car-oriented mindset of Los Angelenos.

      I prefer more taller buildings in downtown instead of being sprawled out everywhere. We should learn from our suburban sprawl mistakes and appreciate the use of “airspace” from taller structures. Prices now may seem expensive, but it will be more expensive in the long run to build low-rise and rebuild again later when demand warrants it. Actually, demand depends on many things, including proximity of available amenities as well as the number of housing units in a given area. It is more than just ground retail and businesses that brings life to the streets. More work spaces (offices, etc.) and housing units are needed as well, hence the need for taller buildings in an area of limited land space.

      • I prefer more taller buildings in downtown instead of being sprawled out everywhere.

        I’d understand your opinion if:

        1) The new apartment buildings on parcels A and B were going to be typical tract houses or 2-story rental buildings, similar to what you’d find in neighborhoods all over the San Fernando Valley or Orange County.

        2) If downtown had — and had always been fortunate to have — very few poorly, shoddily or inadequately thrown-together properties, including dreary, monster-sized auto lots. None of the major cities of international fame have a history of so much flimsiness in their prime areas as that of LA and its downtown.

        3) If both the economic health and population growth of downtown were guaranteed to be vital and impressive for the next 50 years or longer. The center of LA started to go into a big slump, symbolically and statistically, as recently as the mid-1990s, and there’s no reason to believe that what goes around, cannot come around all over again.

        • “there’s no reason to believe that what goes around, cannot come around all over again.”

          So basically what you are saying is that having a long-term vision for L.A. might be too risky. Los Angeles is such a young city compared to the other larger ones in this country (New York, Chicago, etc.) but that also means that we have the largest potential to promote and develop our own unique history.

  9. 6 stories is perfect “Jane Jacobs density”. Skyscrapers look cool from far away but tend to create less than vibrant areas for pedestrians where they meet the street. I’m sure we’ll get more skyscrapers around Fig over the coming years and decades; we don’t need them throughout Little Tokyo and the Historic Core as well. If all the parking lots were filled with 5-6 story mixed use developments, I’d be ecstatic.

    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2012/05/limits-density/2005/

    • agreed. Look at Santa Monica. Most of the buildings are even 5 or less, yet walking around there is amazing. And Yes I understand John/Sebastian that this is DT. But not all neighborhoods should be skyscrapers. Although I wouldn’t mind the last lot to be btwn 7-12 stories and condos. There are barely any condos–two–and one is for old people and the other just isn’t up to par with the rest of condos in the HS or AD

  10. Put another way, we should be aiming for Greenwich Village, not Dubai.

  11. Most of the buildings around the historic core are not 5 storys, they are 10 or more. with a lot of amazing restaurants on the ground floor, that’s what they should be aiming for, atleast surpass 10 storys. Gary you compare L.A. to Santa Monica. We are talking about Los Angeles, the second biggest city in the country. We should be comparing it to other huge Metropolitan cities, not SM. We are not aiming to be Disneyland like SM is.

  12. @Sebastian – skyscrapers are nice (I love them as well), but there is a place for them in downtown and while I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing something a bit taller in this Little Tokyo location, I agree with many others here that 5-6 floors is great density. What really matters is how the buildings meet the street and the amount of retail space proposed for these buildings will ensure a vibrant streetscape. The other key here is connecting LT with the rest of downtown. This block literally separates Little Tokyo from the Civic Center and Historic Core and this single project will go a long way toward ameliorating that problem.

    Look at Sakura Crossing – it might not be tall, but the new restaurants on the ground floor have re-activated what was once a desolate block while adding additional residents to the downtown area. I’m sure we’ll see other skyscraper proposals for South Park and maybe some taller structures in the Historic Core, but the added residents and retail that this new Ava proposal will bring is very welcome news for all of downtown.

    Finally – I would be cautious about calling SM a Disneyland. It is quite progressive when it comes to planning issues. Right now they’re bridging their civic center with the rest of their downtown area and shopping district with a great looking park and are moving toward building housing options near the expo line that will have minimal if any parking. Meanwhile new buildings in downtown still have crazy parking minimums. Point being – there’s a right way to do things and SM is on that bandwagon. In many ways the city of L.A is still catching up, but it’s getting there.

  13. Im sorry to say this, and I may make a few enemies, but Santa Monica focuses mostly on tourism, they have the promenade, the pier, the beach, the nice cute little shops, and restaurants. Downtown L.A. is much more than that, and we are not only in the business to make every street nice and cute, but profitable as well, and to me a 6 story apartment building is just that, cute.

  14. @Sebastian – if 6 stories is cute than London, Paris, Madrid any many other prominent world cities must be downright adorable, because buildings that size make up the bulk of their density.

    I don’t disagree that SM is very touristy, but the infill that they have going on throughout their downtown area is definitely not geared towards tourists. It’s purpose is to provide housing for residents in a dense, walkable area. Of course SM cannot match downtown L.A – it’s far too small, but it is doing some things right. Also – pleasant streetscaping is good urban planning, plain and simple. Downtown L.A could take a few cues on this from other parts of the region. Broken sidewalks and overgrown unkempt trees are unpleasant no matter where you are. Nice streets make a place attractive for business and those businesses ultimately make an area profitable and desirable. The same pattern of urban renewal is what made places like Santa Monica commercially viable again.

    Also – tourism is one of the largest economic generators for the entire L.A area – not just SM. Hopefully as Downtown L.A continues to improve it will become more of a magnet for residents and visitors alike. I already see more tourists walking the streets of DTLA than I remember a few years ago.

  15. Then lets just tear down all the financial buildings in bunker hill and make nice and cute buildings for all the toursits, you’re in the real world Lawrence, not downtown disney.

  16. By the way, last I checked the London skyline is a bit more then 6 storys.

  17. @Sebastian – first off – I never advocated tearing down buildings in the financial district – that’s just putting words in my mouth and you know it. Apparently you missed the part where I said that I like skyscrapers a few posts up. There are places where they make sense and there are other areas where they would be nice perhaps, but aren’t necessary for creating a vibrant, urban city.

    The “real world” (whatever that means) and many real cities consist of a mix of different types of buildings including both skyscrapers and midrises. L.A and downtown L.A are no different. I dare you to visit London or Paris, or countless other world cities and tell me that they’re not urban or “not real” as you put it because they’re not completely filled with skyscrapers. Even NYC has midrises in some areas and in many cases those neighborhoods (parts of Soho, Greenwich Village etc.) are considered to be the most desirable in the city. Why? because they’re pedestrian oriented and foster the creation of a vibrant community.

  18. @ Sebastian – I lived in London and I can tell you that the majority of buildings are about 6 floors give or take. The area known as “the city” of London has newer highrises but it is purely a business district and is devoid of any life during the evenings or weekends. The same is largely true for the city’s other modern office district Canary Wharf to the east.

    Much the same is true in Paris, which maintains a largely uniform density of 6 story buildings across it’s landscape. Once you leave the city proper you get to modern highrises in the Le Defense district, but again – it’s a modern office district and has no life beyond working hours.

  19. Lawrence, you are exactly right. I was in London and Paris last year ( and ive been to many other European cities) and they all area mostly comprised of average looking 5 – 10 story buildings in the core with a sprinkle of highrises. We all love skyscrapers, but not everything has to be 40 stories tall. As long as the projects have retail and are pedestrian oriented, im ok with them. Of course, i rather have them be 10 – 12 stories, but 6 – 10 is ok as well

  20. This will start to tie together Little Tokyo and the Arts District and help to connect Historic Downtown to both areas (and, eventually the river) by extending the redeveloped part of Downtown and adding more pedestrian to the sidewalks.

    And this is the ,maximum height that works for this area. Anything taller would set the wrong precedent for the Arts District which needs to preserve its historic buildings and protect its historic character.

    • I though this was a project off of Alameda I had been shown that too long ago that was next to the Art’s District; hence my comments regarding the Arts District. (I am swamped putting together a major presentation for and had misread the site plan of this project). But I do agree that in the long run it helps connect all three communities and I think the height is perfect of this transitional neighborhood.

  21. I’ll take the middle ground and cknowledge that low-rise residential does indeed pencil out better in the short term and is in every way better than a surface parking lot. That said, one of the reasons I don’t live in Little Tokyo is that many/most of the residential structures seem pretty homogenous to my eye. It would be nice to see some more building variety in this neighborhood, so I’m looking forward to the taller structure planned for the remaining parcel. But again, almost anything’s better than a parking lot!

  22. I don’t like to compare L.A. to other cities, L.A. is what it is. I love my city. The problem here is that many developers are building cheap shit excuse my words, just cause it pencils out, and having some shops and restaurants underneath does not make it the best decision. I’m not a big fan of 6 story stucco and wood structures in an urban space, don’t care if it comes with retail on the ground floor. If you want to compare Paris to L.A. or London look at those 6 story buildings, they are beautiful with a lot of architecure detail, here it’s just crap molding. I would rather go for the taller slender condo look that fits more in this space, then this. Now if they built a 6 story building like the ones in London, then I wouldn’t argue.

  23. yay! more architectural litter to gentrify and homogenize downtown! yay! don’t forget to add a Pier 1, Target and yes, another Famima! would be great! i love their tasteless filtered down coffee! yay! wooden structures, economic viable and profitability! yay! rape downtown for what it’s worth, investors.

    • @steven. It’s a parking lot now. You would prefer that? Or is that where you want to stick your occupy tent?

      • yes, i prefer a parking lot! and here’s a more crazy concept: how about free or reasonably affordable parking?! imagine what that would do for small businesses in the area! maybe we can further develop the existing small businesses before we bring in Pier 1, Bath & Body Works & Gap! i’m not even going to dignify your assumption that i’m affiliated with any political or socially-aware group such as Occupy. but thanks for the compliment.

        • So Steven did you grace us with your presence by way of Curbed? It seems to be where all the bitter old Angelenos gather to bitch about how they know so much more than anyone else. Anyone claiming that downtown would be better with free parking is clearly clueless when it comes to effective urban planning. Next….

  24. @ Steven – right because downtown was so much more viable when nobody lived there, it’s streets were abandoned after 5 and most of the historic core was skid row…

    • you obviously didn’t quite get my sarcasm. but sure, i’ll take your bait. so the supply and demand principle will soon be in effect with downtown. but wait, there’s only so many historically relevant buildings to live in. since the artists, outcasts, then hipsters came set up shop first. then the yuppies, yupsters follow b.c. they feel left out. but right behind them are all the commercial conformist whores (“hey, where can i get a carmel frappacino around here?”). i’d much prefer a group of investors with taste (and some balls), who would think about restoring some gems before littering the hood with gaudy Robert Caruso crap, or worse… the pictured stucco shoebox above with likely planned exorbitant rents … good night and good luck to you!

  25. I would prefer a parking lot until they come up with something better then a 6 story stucco building.

  26. @sebastian : I think not many would share your POV on that one. But fear not! A stucco building can be fairly easily torn down and replaced with a high rise once demand dictates. And not many would weep when that happens, I’d think.

  27. A parking lot is preferable to some new apartment structure? That’s ridiculous, assuming, of course, the building replacing that lot isn’t designed so poorly it would fit right in with a trailer park in Goleta.

    And, no, the Ava Little Tokyo (assuming the image posted of it above isn’t outdated and blueprints have since changed) doesn’t appear to be a low-rent deal orchestrated by an inept architect and a devious real-estate company.

    In my book, any person who is able to tolerate the blight of a parking lot should be able to tolerate anything.

  28. Not anything is better than a parking lot.

    • True. A slaughterhouse/prison/coal-burning power plant might not be the best fit for this space.

      But thankfully, a low-rise, mixed-use residential project (while perhaps unattractive) at least adds one vital thing to this neighborhood: additional density. And as density continues to rise, the building can be replaced (in phases, perhaps?) by a higher-density development. Low-rise buildings need not be permanent.

      That’s one of the reasons why I’m glad to see rentals here instead of condos. It’s easier to replace an apartment complex than a condo complex.

  29. I walked by the site today, construction is in full swing. It’s looking great!

    I am in the camp who believes that six-story buildings are fantastic, and far better than dead parking lots. Most neighborhoods in central New York City, Paris and London are mid-rise: they are beautiful, vibrant, fun neighborhoods. Mid-rise neighborhoods will yield plenty of density, so long as the parking lots disappear.

    The reality is, you cannot mandate high-rises. You can zone for them, but economics will dictate whether there is sufficient demand for them to pencil out. LA has a sad history of choosing high-rises (Bunker Hill redevelopment) over mid-rises (Historic Core, the original Financial District), and consequently ending up with seas of parking lots for decades.

  30. Six story buildings seem appropriate for this neighborhood. High rises like those on Bunker Hill are appropriate for hilly places but Little Tokyo is pretty level. These structures will bring back people to downtown and make for more nighttime activity. Remember when downtown and practically all of L.A. was ghost town every evening? And redeveloping and renewing a somewhat decaying and dying neighborhood will revitalize the area and make it more pleasant and appealing. I see the development as a win-win situation for everyone, and I look forward to it.

  31. What I struggle to understand is that even with all this construction (read: competition), downtown residents are unable to keep up with the skyrocketing rent. There is no rent control in this neighborhood. I am currently living at Parcel C and rent is going up by 10% every year (2 bedroom 2 blocks from Skid Row is already at $3,000). Absolutely insane. Yes, there is a boom happening right now, but if the housing market’s history has taught us anything, it’s that this type of growth cannot last forever and a downtown housing collapse in the future. You simply cannot sustain this type of increase without repercussion.

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