downtown los angeles, little tokyo, south park

TCA Architects Help Design the New Urban Neighborhoods of Downtown LA

Hanover Mixed Use Project in Downtown LA

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A new 7-story mixed-use project with 287 market rate units, designed by TCA and developed by Hanover, will rise at the NW corner of Olympic and Hill in Downtown LA (Photo: TCA)

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas P. Cox who is the CEO of TCA Architects (formerly Thomas P. Cox Architects, Inc.). I met him and his colleagues at their Downtown LA corporate office located on the 10th floor of the Chase Plaza tower with stunning skyline views of Downtown LA. It was the perfect setting and vantage point to sit down and talk about how TCA views urbanism and the future of Downtown LA, and more importantly, how have they been directly involved with the revitalization process.

Cox is a local Angeleno who grew up in San Marino in the 1950s and remembers a time when it was still “chic and glamorous” to come downtown with his parents for shopping and entertainment. Cox fondly reminisces that even his first date was downtown. Over time, however, Downtown LA became the victim of suburbanization. We all know the story by now: Downtown LA went from the hub of activity in the late 1800s to early 1900s — the hustle-bustle we all love in an exciting urban center — to a veritable ghost town after the mid-1900s. Some jobs remained downtown in still largely empty skyscrapers, but the mass exodus of office workers after 5pm left behind a sad forgotten place — what was once the urban heart of LA.

Luckily, times are changing in favor of urbanism again. The last decade of Downtown LA revitalization has helped LA’s urban center regain the symbolic crown of our vast metropolitan region. As believers of the urban renaissance happening in Downtown LA, TCA opened their LA office in 2007 inside the Chase Plaza at the corner of 8th and Grand (across the street from Carmel Partner’s 700-unit mixed-use project). At the time TCA moved in, paint was still drying on the new Ralphs Fresh Fare market two blocks away and the ever-popular Bottega Louie, now a block up the street, would not be open for another two years (on April 6, 2009).

Nevertheless, their new office location was perfect. Centrally located to everything new happening in Downtown LA, but was also just as symbolic of the firm’s core belief of focusing on urban infill projects and urban revitalization. The 1985 Chase Plaza tower is one of LA’s first modern adaptive-reuse projects where the entire upper half of the 22-story building, from the 11th floor and up, was converted in 2006 by CIM Group to 132 luxury condos known as the Sky Lofts.

And that’s exactly what Cox told me his firm believes in: “Contributing to the exciting urban revitalization happening in Downtown LA.” Two of the most successful new mixed-use projects in Downtown LA, designed by TCA, are located in Little Tokyo, Sakura Crossing and Hikari, which have helped transform Little Tokyo into a bustling residential district with one of the most robust and exciting dining and retail scenes in Downtown LA. Once-desolate surface parking lots devoid of life have been developed into high-density apartments over restaurants and retail (the renowned Lazy Ox Canteen, for example, is at Sakura Crossing), which has helped activate the sidewalks with pedestrian activity. Another mixed-use project designed by TCA called Ava Matsu broke ground late last year adjacent to Sakura Crossing, which will continue to help bolster Little Tokyo.

Now the next urban infill project designed by TCA is slated to break ground in the first quarter of 2013 in the northeastern portion of South Park, which is an area of Downtown LA most associate with the Staples Center and LA Live. However, being located at Olympic and Hill, this new 7-story mixed-use project — to be developed by Texas-based Hanover (717 Olympic) — will also be convenient to the Fashion District and the Historic Core.

Currently, the Hanover site is yet another desolate surface parking lot devoid of life (akin to those aforementioned in Little Tokyo). The new Hanover project will help create a new urban neighborhood where really none exists right now with 287 market rate units (studios, one and two bedroom units). It will also add much needed density (urban infill) into the area, which will help reconnect South Park with the Historic Core and Fashion District. The project will have 16,000 square feet of retail space at the corner of Olympic and Hill and will also have 6 live/work lofts back-to-back along Hill Street that could become activated with independently-owned businesses.

All these urban mixed-use projects have contributed to the renaissance of Downtown LA. Angelenos, once relegated to a strict suburban lifestyle, now have the option to live the “urban dream.” And that’s exactly the kind of excitement and new found “LA pride” that TCA continues to be an active part of.

My visit to the TCA office (L to R): Eric Olsen, me, Thomas Cox, Aram Chahbazian

My visit to the TCA office (L to R): Eric Olsen, me, Thomas Cox, Aram Chahbazian

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  1. MarkB says

    Astani has had some interesting Downtown-appropriate designs, but TCA’s projects are a better fit for Glendale or Irvine. They’re better than a parking lot, but that’s damning with faint praise.

    • Astani may disagree with you Mark. TCA is currently working on not 1 but 2 sites for the downtown developer…

  2. Horthos says

    WOOOOO!!!! More of the same!!! Lets here it for monotony and lack of style! Whats the name of this building, is it something like “The Panther” or “Flying Vixen” or “Habanero”? It seems like all of these soulless 7 floor buildings which all look the same have some sort of exotic interesting name in order to offset the fact that they are about as exciting as a jar of toenail clippings…

    Oh well, its like MarkB said….better than a parking lot….

  3. Alex says

    Please don’t contribute, TCA. This may be the best thing you have ever designed, but that’s saying very, very little.

    • Hey Zeus says

      Wow, how quick we are to disrespect actual work. Do you forget what bad buildings actually look like? Would you rather have that, hater?

  4. Nightsky says

    Whatever, it doesn’t look that bad. But the important thing is it’s use; bringing in more dense housing and street-level retail to the neighborhood.

  5. topher says

    I agree with everyone so far…their designs can be more distinctive than all these “off the shelf” designs. Look …another parking lot…lets put the same complex we designed for Irvine here in DTLA. It will save us time and money and no one will notice.

    ATTENTION all developers and architects….this is DTLA’s time to shine, please think through your designs and not just put anything there to fill the void. We want this to be an urban growth not an urban infill…urban infill sounds like a dumping ground.


  6. Shabaz says

    The whole “…better than a parking lot…” attitude is REALLY the whole reason a lot of commercial and residential LA properties look the drab way they have for decades. People/city hall/biz owners make these excuses so someone can get away with doing the minimal work while making the most money (imagine, when rental properties in this area increase beyond the already high prices they are at today, the owner will be able to charge a lot more for these units since there will be fewer of them — instead of building a bigger, more impressive structure). And since he didn’t pay more for a more original design, he saves money on the invetment as well.

    This whole line of thinking has to stop, or we might as well just change the name of downtown LA to Irvine or Manhattan Beach or something — nothing exciting and original will come of this. I implore you to look OUTSIDE to the really exciting urbanistic architecture in places like NYC, Chicago, Germany, Singapore, Dubai….. those places are NOT investing in low-grade, cookie-cutter “luxury” residential projects like this to create a generic “every-city” look. They are creating unique, stylistic residential/commercial/mixed-use projects that characteristically define the neighborhoods/cities they are located in.

    I know my words don’t mean much, but I have actually lived in one of the properties mentioned above (Hikari in LT) and don’t give the same credit that Brigham has given to his interviewee… as far as I could see, the building didn’t provide the same interesting style to the neighborhood as it was provided to BY the neighborhood.

    • topher says

      Well said Shabaz! I couldn’t agree more…DTLA should have higher expectations and not settle for these mediocre developments. If these people wanna make money in our town, they need to offer us international representation not a mere OC, westside look.

  7. “We want this to be an urban growth not an urban infill…”

    Any development that’s not greenfield sprawl is considered infill. Literally everything being built in Los Angeles right now, whether its the highest quality project designed by a starchitect or whether its low-income, uninspired stucco box- its ALL infill. I don’t think you’re going to persuade the real estate development industry to use a different term because this one reminds you of “landfill”.

    • John G. says

      @Chris L,

      I respectfully disagree and actually agree with topher and Shabaz. As one author put it, “words are tools for the brain”. What we need in downtown is urban GROWTH. Hearing you say “its ALL infill” really drives home Shabaz’s point of a developer getting away with minimal work (their minimum approach to capturing the current market without investing in the long-term viability of the community).

      When topher says “We want this to be an urban growth” this reminds me of the three densitites I mentioned in an earlier post. Basically, this project captures the night-time density of this area quite well. However, it’s structural density will lag at some point (to accomodate both future night-time AND DAY-TIME population density growths) far sooner than its depreciable commercial life expectancy. This proposed structure will last for decades, if not a half-century or more once this is built. What will the population in this area be like then? I’m betting on a higher population.

      Los Angeles must be built for long-term structural density. By doing so, we are well positioned to capture growth instead of prematurely overcrowding our infrastructure. We are building a global city, not a surban low-density apartment complex town.

  8. Carter says

    I find it interesting that Hollywood has many new projects under construction or in development that are around twenty floors or more while downtown LA seems stuck at around the seven floors.
    Are more quality developers building Hollywood, do they know something that downtown developers should, or what?

    • Hey Zeus says

      Yes! Taller! Taller! Taller!

      What is this – some closeted tower-loving phase of homosexual development? Please go satisfy yourself with actual human beings, not metaphorical fantasies. This building is fine. I like sunlight. I don’t care if they fill the rest of empty / underutilized downtown lots with 7 story stubs. I would rather 3 seven story buildings cover 3 lots in 3 years than 1 twenty story building cover 1 lot in 5 years.

  9. sebastian says

    The 2010’s will go down in the Architecture History as the Decade of the 7 story stucco projects, no landmarks whatsoever, except for maybe the Broad and the new Wilshire Grand. Mark my words ” THESE STUCCO BUILDINGS WILL NOT LAST MORE THAN 30 YEARS” They will be sold off to another Developer that will tear them down and put sometintg deserving. This decade is only the decade of the infill projects like Shabaz said.

  10. This project is terrible (I would rather it sit a parking lot until something more worthy for downtown LA comes around). TCA is terrible has has a shitty track record of boring, bland, dated architecture that I even dare to say doesn’t belong in Irvine, CA (well maybe there but that’s it). Seems like they hire the D students from Uncle’s Bob’s Budget School of Architecture and Design. I’m surprised Brigham is acknowledging these bozos. I understand there’s a budget they need to keep but it can be done if they had vision and talent which from every project they’ve done so far, shows they don’t have the skills. Their “designs” would never be tolerated in any other world class city.

  11. CarterTris says

    > The whole “…better than a parking lot…”
    > attitude is REALLY the whole reason a lot of
    > commercial and residential LA properties
    > look the drab way they have for decades.

    Actually, no. Some of the drabbest, most unsophisticated development throughout Los Angeles tends to date back to the first half of the 20th century. A time when most Angelenos weren’t terribly discriminating about aesthetics, when the automobile really was the Holy Grail to them, and when they couldn’t care less whether a plot of land was a parking lot or the Taj Mahal.

    • John G. says


      You make some good points but today is no longer the first half of the 20th century. This isn’t the time now when automobiles are still considered the Holy Grail when everyone is stuck in Holy Traffic in modern 21st century. And yes, we do care now if a plot of land continues to be a parking lot amid unsustainable developments that continue to follow suburban patterns of growth.

    • Horthos says

      Bullshit on a stick. The reason architecture looks so drab is because good design died out after the 40s, with the help of the modern and international styles of architecture. Assclowns like Mies Van Der Rohe are to blame (see Seagram Building), and other “architects” who started building soulless blocks with plazas surrounding them. It is still happening to this day, as we can see above. Blaming crap architecture on the attitude of “better than a parking lot” is total garbage. It is quite simply because it is easier and cheaper to build something that lacks any style whatsoever.

      And to say that “Some of the drabbest, most unsophisticated development throughout Los Angeles tends to date back to the first half of the 20th century” is an absolutely mindnumbingly insane thing to say. The Eastern Columbia building? Richfield Building (R.I.P.)? Bullocks Wilshire? Pacific Electric building? Fine Arts Building? DRAB??? UNSOPHISTICATED???

      It is better than a parking lot though, but that is a bit like saying a cold sore is better than syphilis.

      I encourage everyone to do themselves a favor and learn some history of this city.

      • brudy says

        I’d love to know what you think of Palmer’s developments?

  12. sebastian says

    Interesting how L.A. is the only city that will buy more land to build a seven story building rather then buy less land to build a 20 or 30 story building. For example the 8th and Grand building so much land to only build a 7 story building.

  13. Simon Ha says

    Brigham – TCA’s first DT office was at 600 Wilshire in late 2005, then moved to 801 S Grand in 2007.

    For those of you who are advocates of high-rise developments and hate 7 story boxy buildings, until people are willing to pay $3000 for a 700 sf apartment , you will not see too many high-rise apartments.

    Housing is a product. Developers produce a product based on market demand and what consumers are willing to pay. They figure out how much it’ll take to make a product (in this case, land cost, construction cost, development cost, borrowing cost, etc) and speculate if it will be profitable. For now, high-rise construction does not make the math work because the cost of construction for high-rise is 1.5-2 times the cost of 7 story boxy podium buildings and developers don’t have the data that there are enough consumers out there willing to pay the premium. So the banks won’t finance these high-end products. Like I tell my 5 year old daughter, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” It’s a matter of economics.

    Having said that, for downtown community, it’s a hard decision to welcome all developments that are replacing parking lots vs. holding out until the next development cycle that will bring ambitious high-rise projects. One example is the Park 5th project north of Pershing Square. It’s a very prominent site with original plans for a 70+ and a 40+ story buildings. Recently a developer proposed a 7 story podium project on it. On this site, the desire for a high-rise next to the Gas Company Tower outweighed the “better than a parking lot” notion. The developer could not get anyone to finance the high-rise portion of the project so it died.

    There are over 8000 housing units currently in construction or in the pipelines in Downtown, most of which are 7 stories. Some are well designed and some can use some encouragements to do better. But for the most part, this is what we got so think about how these can be designed better. Not just for looks but how it functions for residents, how it ties to the community, and how it can enhance the urban design at the pedestrian level. Let’s get beyond the comments of “I hate stucco boxes”.

    For those who are interested in actually participating in influencing what gets built in DT, come to DLANC Planning and Land Use Committee meetings –
    We meet at the Gensler basement conference room at 505 S. Flower next to Weilands Brewery (Underground Food Court)

    • Thank you. You’ve made the point I was trying to make above, better than I ever could. Projects need to pencil out. Developers aren’t in the game to make the skyline pretty, or make DTLA taller, as some of the commenters here seem to think. They are in it to make a profit. That’s it. The minute that real estate values and rents downtown rise to the point that developers can do more expensive highrise construction and turn a profit, they will.

      Trust that they know much more about Downtown’s real estate market than any of us do. Its their job to.

    • Zambinification says

      Thank you for injecting sanity into this column. I’m afraid too many curbed size queens have made their way over here.

    • I’m also with Simon. As a fellow Downtown resident, I’ve lived in five different DTLA buildings over the last decade (yes, we tend to move around a lot). I can tell you that the rental price points for adaptive reuse and low-rise projects might be pricey by LA standards, but come nowhere near the rents demanded by the high-rise developments.

      These forgettable low-rise structures may not be much to look at, but they do bring Downtown residency within reach of more and more Angelenos, which further helps build residential density, which encourages taller projects, etc. :-)

  14. John G. says

    Simon Ha,

    Doesn’t it also depend on the developers risk level? And if they use a deep-pocket strategy where more of the project is financed from the developer’s equity instead of external financing? You mention the cost of a taller building, but how about the income stream from commercial/retail tenants in a mixed-use project? Again, this will depend also on the developers own internal rate of return and their expected “payback period”.

    While we can point out that the biggest cost difference stems from the fact of construction materials/labor after we go beyond a certain floor height, how about the income stream from taller high-rises (and not necessarily just residential units). Market forecasts can be unreliable or unfavorable at this time, but taller high-rises are never shovel-ready and take years to finish.

    In my opinion, it’s more of how a developer positions their financial and risk management strategies, as well as the value proposition of their product.

  15. John G. says

    Chris L,

    I also see your point and I do understand that projects need to “pencil out”. While we are not privy to every developer’s financial strategy (which includes their profit expectations, which I’m sure is based off industry markers), penciling out a project is going to vary upon each developer’s financial and risk-level background. And to add to the complexiy, the project’s location and size will also influence public scrutiny at various levels(ex. Millenium Towers in Hollywood), thus possibly affecting a developer’s strategy.

    It’s interesting you say “The minute that real estate values…”. First of all, no one can say at what time or minute real estate values will rise to the point of building more highrise construction. No one has a crystal ball, but we do have investors (and developers) who take calculated risks, each with their own risk-levels. There is no standard or cookie-cutter approach on risk everyone goes by, it depends on the individual parties. Look at the Wilshire Grand Tower being built. It was in the pipline when the market was good. When the market dropped, its true they downscaled, but not in height. They went to only one tower and yet they are still building tall, with this project expected to be the tallest building west of the Mississippi river. We also have the Canadian developer Onni, who currently is not only starting work on a 32-story hi-rise on Olive and Ninth, BUT PLANS TO BUILT TWO MORE HIGH-RISES in downtown Los Angeles.

    Yes, we can trust that developers know much more about Downtown’s real estate market than any of us do. And you are correct, that it is their full-time job. But we must also not forget that every developer is different, and will look at the market and risks involved through their own “lens”…

    • John, I agree with everything your said. The situation is complex is depends on level of risk a developer is in a position to take in addition to where the real estate market is at that time. I was just pointing out that some of the earlier comments in the thread seemed a bit naive in that they expect this developer to build to a height that meets their expectations, rather than build to the height that makes the most financial sense for them.

      Who knows- if Onni owned this lot, maybe we’d be seeing another 25-story Vancouveresque tower. But its not, its owned by Hanover, whom is in the position where 7 stories makes the most sense for them.

  16. david says

    NEWSFLASH! These low rise buildings are not “world class architecture” but they serve an extremely important purpose: to in-fill the dead space in a central city that desperately needs its dead spaces in-filled. They bring more people into the core TO LIVE, which triggers more small businesses, services and amenities to open….and a real COMMUNITY to thrive. It sickens me to hear all these cynics and haughty critics slam the organic growth that’s occurring downtown… the kind of growth that’s enabled the core to “turn a corner.” I’ve lived in Chicago for 5 years, and I can tell all you “aesthetes” and “high rise queens” that tall buildings can be banal too. For every one of you who salivate over REALLY TALL buildings in LA, there are 5 in Chicago who DON’T. More tall buildings do not = “world class city.” COMMUNITY, pride, energy, diversity (yes, girls, even diversity of building types), and a sense of place that has to do more with “what’s going on there” than “how cool the buildings are.” As they say in NYC – this goes out to all the naysayers and delusionals here – “PUT A LID ON IT!”

    • John G. says

      @ david,

      Nice to point out your Chicago background. But you must also understand the background of low-rise Los Angeles sprawl. While in-fill of dead space is important, what gets built there is just as important as well. While true that even a 7-story project can bring in people and trigger more small businesses, a taller project can do just the same. Perhaps you are fine with any in-fill, but for someone like me and others who have basically lived our entire lives in LA sprawl (which long commutes and traffic remind us everyday), we are keenly aware of the long-term effects of how our insfrastructure influences our quality of living. Our past model of the suburbs worked fine when gas was cheap and freeways were free to roam around like what you would see in a Randy Newman music video (ie. I Love L.A.). But not any more. I think the advocates for taller buildings have a point because the main issue is LONG-TERM sustainability. As our population grows, to build only to suit the current market is a losing proposition. We risk the lag of structural density to meet market demands. Santa Monica is a perfect example of this with traffic congestion getting worse and it is no surprise that developers are just trying now to play catch-up (even though some have been in the pipeline for years). With Santa Monica growing, there is now a backlog of deveopments awaiting approval. Do we want DTLA “Rising” in the same manner? (Just look at the catch-up with the hotels in South Park, with Marriott taking the spotlight).

      See this link on Santa Monica’s City Council Agenda Feb. 12, 2013, Agenda Item 8-B:

      Projects are never shovel ready and development cycles don’t always synchronize with fluctuating market demands. To add to the complexity, all real estate is mainly local, and expecting more for downtown L.A. (especially in South Park near L.A. Live) is neither too demanding or surprising. A project like this one would actually fit better in SFV, IMO.

      I would also like to point out that what gets built have LONG-TERM Life Cycles, at least from a human life-span perspective. Once this 7-story gets built, it’s not going to go away anytime soon. There is a good possibility that the next replacement for this project won’t be until past your lifetime. Simon Ha makes a good point about financials, although there are other factors involved and many opportunities the city can promote to create a thriving world-class urban community. “Financing” can come from multiple directions, whether they are projected income streams, tax-credits, tax-breaks, or even legal financial incentives such as SB 1818 (Density Bonus Rule). Contruction/labor costs is one of many line items that gets penciled out when analyzing a project.

  17. david says

    I understand these points of view, but until there is more of a sense of place downtown (more residential buildings and fewer parking lots and vacant properties) it simply will not draw the type of development you wish to see – high rise residential buildings. Those are a huge investment in steel, concrete and glass for buildings that draw only upper income people, and they don’t want to live in a downtown that has one Ralphs mini-market, dirty streets, no parks, no shopping and no sense of urban community. Just look at a map and you’ll see the opportunities exist for years to come for both high rise and low/mid rise development. I don’t know the figure, but it seems like 30% of the land n downtown is vacant or used for surface parking. Add in the demolition of buildings beyond repair (or adaptive reuse) and all those that can be repurposed, and you have huge opportunities for the accelerated evolution of downtown. I just think this is the wrong time to be lambasting low/mid rise residential development. Some of it has been very successful, and has enriched and enlivened parts of downtown. Believe me, there are just as many people in Chicago who do NOT want to live in tall buildings as those who do. San Francisco is another good example; it is NOT a high rise city, and people prefer it that way. South of Market (South beach) has been almost completely revitalized without high rises. Just my view…having lived in London, SF, Chicago, Atlanta…

    • John G. says


      Good points but I don’t think its the wrong time to be lambasting low/mid rise developments. Now is THE BEST TIME! Should we just cookie-cutter our our infill projects in downtown like we did in the suburbs, and take the chances years later to find out we could have done better? And speaking of SF, downtown is very high-rise with many new projects coming in the pipline. While the surrounding areas of course are definitely low-rise, there is a price for that. It’s called affordability. Just compare the affordability index with SF and LA…

      The people in SF may prefer it that way but median incomes there are much higher than LA…

      Although I did not live in those cities you mention, I did travel and observe the city dynamics in all of those places (London, SF, Chicaho, Atlanta…)

      • david says

        John, thanks for your thoughts on this. As we think this through, several issues come to mind. At first I thought the critics of these kinds of in-fill, low/mid rise housing developments were thinking they should be high rises – big, tall buildings that bolster the skyline, house many hundreds of people, and stay in place for a LONG period of time. Ostensibly, the sign of a “real serious city.” Not a bad idea, necessarily. But then it became apparent that the complaint was not so much about low/mid rise developments, but about their architecturally banal “cookie cutter” design (totally subjective based on early design renderings) and – pass the vapors! – that they are reminiscent of suburban development. That last part makes me shutter too. The gaudy pastiches of Geoff Palmer’s profit-mongering projects on the edges of downtown make one’s eyes roll, one’s gut retract, and one’s head to spin: “Why on earth?!” But those faux villas are another story. They were pooped out when the economy made it easy to in-fill DEAD SPACE downtown with “resort style” dormitories for college students whose parents wanted them a little further away from University Park, in a “safer, secure” compound with swimming pool and tennis court. I agree that those developments brought the worst of South Orange County to DTLA. But, back to the topic at hand. I can tell you without reservation that what DTLA needs most of all right now is more housing for what might be called the 3rd or 4th generation of DTLA residents (post WWII). After, literally, 45 years of fits-and-starts…of many desperate, on the one hand, and enlightened, on the other, attempts to breathe life into DTLA – where are we today? Depending on who you ask, and which measures you use, DTLA is either a Phoenix Rising or a wide body station wagon stuck in neutral. In any case, I believe the very best thing that can be happening right now is ANY project that lures more residents, whether low/mid rise or high rise or repurposed warehouses or converted hotels and office buildings…. ANY WELL INTENTIONED DEVELOPMENT to grow the residential population downtown. Who cares whether the building is “meh” or “BABY!”…who cares as long as it replaces a parking lot, or an abandoned underutilized parcel….as long as it gives us critical mass of people living, working, playing, shopping, studying here? Who cares as long as it fills the streets with pedestrians, brings in more markets and small businesses? Who cares as long as it humanizes DTLA and spurs more development – hopefully some more skyscrapers, and hopefully many that aren’t banal and cookie-cutter and belong in Anywhereopolis USA….

      • John G. says

        Interesting points dave, and I understand your perspective that ANY project will ultimately benefit the downtown residential base. However, my angle of approach in DTLA development is more of the long-term aspects of a project because as we have all learned from our sprawl history, lack of planning will only fuel more problems of congestion and traffic. And this is what L.A. has always lacked, planning. Although we can say there has been planning for years, it has always been the ad-hoc approach and never central to the regional area. My point is that a taller building (given a fixed amount of land space) is always going to be more suitable to provide the structural density that captures the long-term growth of downtown’s residential base. Should every building be 30+ floors or higher? Of course not. But this is downtown, and an important tenent of urban vitality in any downtown core is an effective agglomeration of density that fuels a sustainable business network. IMO, 7-stories might be effective for now, but will become prematurely underutilized again in the near future and thus have the effect of pushing growth further out laterally. The result? More premature urban sprawl and unnecessary congestion. Remember, DTLA is currently in transition and still incubating its residential base – thus I will tend to agree with you on some of your points. However, I must question your statement when you put in caps “ANY WELL INTENTIONED DEVELOPMENT”. Is this 7-story a “well-intentioned” development? I can’t really say but I do support this developer for investing in our city. Well-intentioned to you for now might be replacing a parking lot or an abandoned utilized parcel with any building, but I think we must do better than that. To not do so only perpetuates the same historical patterns of sprawl where we just freely built anything, anywhere, as long as it was easy to built and sells. Works for now, but in the end our children gets stuck fixing the pieces when we realize we did not built for adaptability and growth. I will agree with you that this project will be a contributor and an impetus for further downtown growth, but my main concerns are the long life-cycle aspects of these shorter buildings and its centrality to the urban core – at a time when downtown is just beginning to transform. It’s hard to refute that the mass of this project is irrelevant when you have so many others (like in South Park and the Little Tokyo area) building up to the same scale and not leaving room for growth. Sure there are still a good percentage of parking lots to be built upon, but didn’t we always take that same approach when land was still available in the Valley? And now look what we have, congestion and even more unfortunate, political resistance to more growth (even if it’s “smart” growth).

        I sort of remain neutral with the Geoff Palmer projects. It’s sort of ironic though that you see these developments in a negative light when the strategy for Palmer was to “bring-in” more of the affluent folks closer to downtown. Isn’t that what we need to grow our downtown residential base? And keep in mind, Palmer might have been a profit monger, but he had deep pockets to take the risks and build where no one else was taking the chance. His market wasn’t for the affordable housing folks, but the people with the skills and education that…of course, commensurated their incomes to be able to afford these market-rate units close to downtown. That’s not necessarily bad when you look at downtown’s recent history and the brain drain it has experienced over the decades, especially after business hours. His projects, IMO, could be much better, but that’s the power of the free market. And like this TCA project, all we can do is offer our opinions…

  18. Alex says

    Sure this kind of building isn’t the greatest but it’s not terrible. Many great cities, with vibrant neighborhoods are filled with buildings of similar height or less: large sections of New York for example, Paris, London, SF, Barcelona, Sydney, Buenos Aires. The neighborhoods are sufficiently dense to create vibrant street life. And arguably the addition of high rises to existing low rise neighborhoods has hurt the character of those neighborhoods.

    Buenos Aires, a city I have lived (NY, Sydney and SF too), is mostly filled with 3 to 7 story buildings and many great neighborhoods. Much of the new construction is around 7 stories. But many, many 30 and 40 towers have built throughout the city in recent years and in some circumstances they have created huge voids at street level because they are set back and function almost like gated communities. Puerto Madero, the newest neighbor, is the exception. It’s all new construction near the river and it is a sea of giant towers. Apart from weekend days and certain small pockets it like a ghost town most times, devoid of character.

    I am not a NIMBY. I have lived in downtown for 12 years. I am not against big towers at all. In fact I think they would a welcome addition to the few small surface parking lots in the historic core. I would love a great Neil Denari tower there. But in light of the economic realities I’m perfectly fine with these low rises filling in the vast stretches of asphalt like this one.

  19. david says

    Good points, Alex. It’s not an “either/or” proposition. Both high rise and low/mid rise can be good for a city’s growth.

    I’d like to ask those reading this to give me some advice. I will be relocating to L.A. from downtown Chicago in June. I am intrigued by the thought of living in downtown L.A, but don’t know what to expect. I’d appreciate candid opinions on the quality of life in this area, and some insight into its pros & cons.

    Thanks Much.

  20. David, you can try the City Data LA forum ( or /r/LosAngeles over on Reddit (

    Quality of life downtown is overall good. Rental prices are rising, but you can still get a massive loft for a price that would make a Manhattanite’s head explode. If you are looking to buy, get in now if you can find something.

    DTLA has a ton of great restaurants and bars with new ones appearing every month. There’s not enough grocery stores, but I have a feeling that’s all going to change over the next year or two. In the meantime, the Ralph’s Fresh Fare in South Park is really good, and there are number of smaller markets throughout Downtown.

    In terms of safety, it can feel a little sketchy east of Spring late at night, but only because you’ll see some wacked out characters wandering over from Skid Row. From what I understand, DTLA’s crime stats are actually very low. I used to live in DTLA but now live in Koreatown, which ironically feels safer to me but is actually more dangerous if you look at the crime stats. Perception of safety is a funny thing. Overall, if you’re coming from Chicago you will be totally fine.

    The big advantage to DTLA living is the neighborhood’s walkability compared to most other LA neighborhoods. If you work downtown or near a Metro station, its totally doable to live carfree and not feel like you’re missing out. There’s not many other neighborhoods in LA where you can say that.

    • david says

      thanks for your advice and information. i think i will be looking for a loft space, but west of, say, Olive or Broadway.
      Thanks again…

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