Lots of activated retail spaces are one of the main keys to unlocking the full potential of any urban setting no matter where you are, and Downtown LA is no exception. If you want Downtown LA to succeed, you gotta have ground floor retail — everywhere. Think about it. Almost any vibrant urban center you visit that’s walkable and vibrant — whether that’s Manhattan, London, Madrid, or Tokyo — is usually filled to the brim with dense back-to-back retail and restaurants on the ground floor (and in Tokyo’s case on the upper and lower levels as well!). So for an ardent urban advocate like myself who yearns for LA to become truly walkable one day, I am constantly looking for signs that Downtown LA is maturing into a serious urban center. That’s why I’m so excited to see that 801 S Grand is adding that critical piece of the urban puzzle with an ongoing retail space expansion project that will transform this corner into a vibrant urban setting.
Located at the southwest corner of 8th and Grand, 801 S Grand was once referred to by its original name Chase Plaza when it was completed in 1986. Before the current Downtown LA revitalization started to really take off, the 22-story office tower once stood pretty much by itself in a sad desolate and forgotten landscape surrounded by pretty much nothing but empty surface parking lots. Today, the neighborhood is abuzz and almost unrecognizable as the mixed-use tower, which had its upper floors converted to 132 residential condos in 2006, sits in the middle of an economic building boom. Across the street is the still-new Whole Foods and a soon-to-open 24-hour CVS store not to mention a plethora of new coffee shops and other exciting businesses opening nearby.
With all this tremendous growth happening all around, it’s no surprise that the owner of the office portion of 801 S Grand (from floors 1 thru 11), CIM Group, decided that they couldn’t just keep the ground floor of the building as a sterile relic of 1980’s bland corporate architectural design. You know, the ones with those huge concrete plazas that do such a great job at repelling pedestrians? They needed to soften it up, make it more pedestrian-friendly, and add the critical retail component to activate such a now-amazing location (hello, Whole Foods across the street?).
Construction started in the late spring on converting the ground floor office and a portion of the lobby into two more much-welcomed retail spaces. What used to be a ho-hum Select Staffing office at the corner will become the new exciting centerpiece of an expanded retail space totaling 5,000 square feet. A new modern glass enclosure designed by Pasadena-based McKently Malak Architects will be built out from the formerly setback office space that will extend out to the sidewalk and replace the useless plaza.
Taking over a portion of the gratuitously expansive lobby, another smaller 1,200 square foot retail space will be built out on the opposite side of the building next door to the Big Wangs restaurant and bar, which interestingly enough was the building’s first attempt back in 2008 to build out a new retail space onto the sprawling underutilized plaza. Big Wangs (formerly Tranquility Base Restaurant and Lounge) could definitely be improved to address the street a bit better, but at least for now, it’s better than nothing.
Construction on these two retail spaces is expected to wrap up by mid-2017. When the spaces are fully activated with life and pedestrian activity, it will be so exciting to stand at this corner and remember a time when it was once nothing more than an abandoned ghost town.