downtown los angeles, financial district

Ratkovich Plans “Major Changes” for Macy’s Plaza in Downtown LA

Macy's Plaza is a poorly designed shopping center in Downtown LA that is not only visually deleterious, but impedes pedestrian connections between South Park and the Financial District, impeding Downtown LA's growth potential

What kind of “major changes” are ahead for Macy’s Plaza if Ratkovich successfully purchases the fortress-like mall from Jamison Services, Inc?

Back in March 2012, we reported that Macy’s was planning to put in about $7 million toward a renovation to spruce up an aging (to put it lightly) department store. I called it “lipstick on a pig” because the issue wasn’t just about fixing up an extremely lackluster Macy’s (hidden behind dated brick walls), but more about how poorly designed and detrimental the fortress-like mall is to Downtown LA’s future growth and development, which has effectively severed the Financial District from South Park, preventing the two districts from connecting synergistically. Much more major work would be needed to fix this prime example of poor urban design.

Word on the street this past summer was that the owner of Macy’s Plaza, Jamison Services, Inc., was “quietly” searching for a buyer. Of course they were searching. The location is sitting on a gold mine. Centrally located in the Financial District across the busiest subway station in the LA rail system and facing 7th Street, which has become a bustling Restaurant Row. Development is flourishing all around it, so it wasn’t surprising, but great news nonetheless, when the Downtown News reported yesterday that a reputable buyer, The Ratkovich Company, stepped up to the plate and is currently in escrow to purchase Macy’s Plaza (at an undisclosed price) with a projected May 2013 closing date.

I am cautiously optimistic that there will be a very bright future for the site that Macy’s Plaza occupies today. Major changes are apparently ahead. But exactly how major? “Opening up the glass atrium” fronting 7th Street is the easy part. Even remodeling the front entrances of both the Sheraton on Hope and the 33-story office tower on Flower by replacing the dated 70’s brickwork with a more attractive material is relatively “easy.” However, the biggest offender here that will be more difficult to address is the hulking brick structure, which includes a parking structure sitting on top of a Macy’s, located toward the back of the complex along 8th Street flanked by Flower and Hope. Here on this short block, you’ll find the usual foreboding brick walls, three anti-pedestrian driveways, and two gates meant to keep the homeless out of the building’s crevices. This back portion is especially concerning — 8th Street needs to be activated with retail — and will likely be torn down and redeveloped if “major changes” are truly ahead.

And what will happen to Macy’s? Apparently they are staying put. According to a tip sent in last night, a rep from Macy’s recently disclosed information regarding a “multi-million dollar upgrade” that includes a new “tourist visitor center” concept called Visit Macy’s USA that are only at select properties in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia. It will be interesting to see how Macy’s can be upgraded to “flagship status” without tearing down the existing structure and starting over.

The downtown community will be waiting anxiously for Ratkovich to reveal those exciting, yet nerve-racking details.

Macy's Plaza in Downtown LA is a relic of the poor design

Macy’s Plaza in Downtown LA is a relic of poor design from the 1970s

Blank brick walls shut out life and prevent the sidewalks from being activated

Blank brick walls surrounding Macy’s Plaza shut out all life and prevent the sidewalks from being activated

What should be a building lined with restaurants and retailers is instead lined with life-less brick walls

What should be a building lined with restaurants and retailers is instead a building lined with lifeless brick walls

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  1. raymond3000 says

    How about a subway portal on this side of 7th street, to allow visitors to emerge from Metro into the mall? Ohhhh i can’t wait to see what changes are coming our way! Hopefully the hotel & office tower also get extensive upgrades, & someone finally purchases the 8th/ fig plots for a big development as well.

  2. How about removing the uninspired shops in the mall and expanding the Macy’s into that space to create more of a true downtown “flagship” store.

  3. brudy says

    I’m psyched about this and could kind of square the impact that 7thandFig has had. I agree that I’m not sure how much they can do without tearing the whole thing down and starting fresh, but almost anything is better architecturally than what’s there now.

  4. Robert says

    I wonder if something can be done with those crevices flanking Flower St., which I need to walk by almost every day. Maybe a flower shop or something that will bring some life and color to this block. Or maybe just pretty plants! It doesn’t help that the other side of Flower is parking structures and empty lots.

  5. Steven says

    While I can see the allure of an open aired mall, given the success of the revamped Santa Monica Place and the recent opening of Figat7th, I don’t think it’s the right decision for Macy’s Plaza.

    Santa Monica Place is in a very different environment. It is a short walk from the beach and surrounded by low rise buildings.

    Macy’s Plaza is 15 miles inland and is surrounded by high rises. The glass atrium that they want to pull out is in between a 33 story office tower and a 24 story hotel tower.

  6. As far as the exterior claddings go, the problem isn’t the brick (although that particular color of brick is a little dated), The problem is the lifelessness of the architecture. Brick itself is actually an enduring and potentially attractive material. We would be far better off if more buildings used brick instead of, for example, those hideous sprayed-on stucco finishes that are cheaper and much more ubiquitous.
    But hooray for the potential change ahead!

  7. Simon Hartigan says

    Even when you’re not the first to report on something, your articles are the best.

  8. Sebastian says

    I did want to mention though that a cheap way to activate those brick lifeless walls is to bring back newspaper racks.

  9. Great news B, I read this while at Takami thinking of the possibilities. Truly exciting. Thanks for the news.

  10. Jencarswell says

    The brick surface gives Macy’s Plaza, both inside and out, a rather dark, dated quality. However — and quite obviously — it goes without saying that replacing that with a stucco type of facing would be too hideous for words.

    Since the perimeter walls of the department store (originally The Broadway, and now Macy’s) and the parking structure above it — which represent much of what seems like a “fortress” — take up a huge amount of the space bordered by 7th, 8th, Hope and Flower Streets, there probably won’t be much change, if any, to that part of the complex. So any really dramatic reconfiguration of the Plaza probably would be both too difficult and costly.

    Macy’s in New York City has over 1 million square feet of store space, while the Macy’s in San Francisco’s Union Square has around 700,000 sf. The downtown LA store encompasses a relatively modest 250,000 sf, although that’s large by the standards of most newer or newly built “department” stores.

    • This is such great news. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could enter a refurbished Macy’s thru 8th or Hope.

  11. Sebastian says

    I like the Idea of turning the Atrium into Macys, that way people will have access to Macys from the Street, and not have to walk through crappy stores to get to Macys.

  12. Reconfiguration of the plaza doesn’t have to be costly.
    First, they should remove the roof of the plaza and the front doors to make it commuter friendly.
    Second, on the side abutting Flower Street they NEED TO ALLOW access to stores from this side. I would love to see this side lined up with bar&grills, pubs, cafes, and/or restaurants with patio seating. Somebody mentioned a flower shop, which would be a nice idea. A bar/grill such as Barneys Beanery, BJs or Gordon Biersch will work.
    I don’t know what they can do to the downstairs section but they need to keep the LA Fitness there. Perhaps they could work in a Trader Joes or a Whole Foods in there someway.

    The only costly part here would be the parking structure. I don’t know what they could do here but I never liked it and I doubt parking ever gets full here.

  13. I’m wondering what will happen to the shops on the ground floor, there are many mom and pop shops…. There is the Hallmark Store, 24 Fitness and Radio Shack to name a few.. I agree a remodel/facelift is necessary there since foot traffic is low. Just wondering what “major” really means.

    • raymond3000 says

      It would be cool if all the retail could relocate elsewhere in DT like on 7th, Bway or Spring maybe even if they could be repositioned to street facing instead of hidden within the mall.

  14. david says

    I disagree about the architecture being bad…well, sort of. It is bulky and bland, but it is a good example of an urban building on a cramped site designed to do many different things at once. Taken as a whole composition, it is – weird to say – a “classic” in need of some creative TLC.
    I can imagine cutting into the brick at key places (inc. along the sidewalk) and creating glassy openings…maybe introducing some bas-rtelief or mosaic art panels along the blank walls overhead…. doing a lot to KEEP the brick mass as the foundation for a more user-friendly redesign. The right A&D firm would be able to pull this off…

  15. 2 words: Whole Foods!!!!!!!!!!!! If you have been to the whole foods in NYC at Columbus square you could easily envision the cavernous lower level that acts as a food court as a huge footprint for a 2nd supermarket that pulls people from echopark and silverlake downtown!!!!!

    • Or Trader Joes. I have never been in this parking lot but I assume it fits well with terrible Trader Joes parking accommodations.

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