Last night I attended a “Fireside Chat” with Hal Bastian and Brigham Yen. the two men who have been the most passionate voices and citizen activists in the renaissance of DTLA . The lounge-y lobby of The Standard Hotel was full of residents, the just curious, and the big investors who all hung on Hal’s and Brigham’s every word .
Hal recently launched his own firm, Hal Bastian Inc., after spending the past 20 years in commercial real estate followed by 13 years as the Director of Economic Development for the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID). While at DCBID, Hal was instrumental in bringing residential and retail development as well as friendly dogs and their owners to the streets of downtown that were once, not terribly long ago, deserted after 6 p.m.
Brigham told us about how he got his love for DTLA which started when his dad took him on a Greyhound Bus trip from Utah to Denver to Chicago to New York with each city destination getting another “really” in front of the “big.” His dad would preface their arrival at each destination by saying, “Son, this is a (add 1 REALLY for Denver, 2 for Chicago and 3 for New York) big city!” At one point Brigham was hired by Hal to work for the DCBID and now he focuses on DTLA real estate as well as his blog, DTLA Rising, where he uncovers all the latest news on what inquiring minds want to know about new developments, retail construction and renovation within each of the downtown districts.
Hal and Brigham, in many ways, reflect the two generations that are the embracers of the DTLA lifestyle–babyboomers and millennials. Both demographics have already discovered why downtown is so great. At the same time Hal acknowledges that the future of downtown must include better public schools such as Metro Charter School, that was started by DTLA parents a few years ago, along with more parks and activities for young children such as the annual Halloween Party in the FIDM Park. The goal is to make it attractive for parents to continue to live downtown when their children reach school age. Hal argues that young parents who work downtown might rethink the time they could lose with their kids due to commuting vs. the trade-off of the house and the back yard (not to mention upkeep!).
Brigham, a Cal Berkeley grad, said he could never understand why his Bay Area friends were always so down on LA. While he realized as a college student that Los Angeles was still lacking the city vibe that he found in San Francisco, he still wouldn’t give into the jibes. He described an enjoyable moment of vindication that came the other day, when he ran into two old friends from the Bay Area, one of whom owns several restaurants. Brigham said that he asked him, “Hey man, what are YOU doing here in DTLA?” “I love it here,” his friend replied, “There’s so much cool stuff happening.” For Brigham that was one of those ultimate reassurances of knowing that what you’ve been working so hard for has materialized.
Hal gave us a great quote from Teddy Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I could think about this one for hours. Which of these two pictures is better? I don’t think it matters. I think we just embrace the change.
The photo above shows what the DTLA skyline will look like when the 1,100 Wilshire Grand Tower is completed at 7th and Figueroa in 2017. This photo was pulled from Brigham Yen’s DTLA Rising blog.
So yes, we can certainly compare one era to another, but we also revel in the uniqueness of our city. It’s not just the old and it’s not just the new, it’s how the pieces are all working together like the Broadway Trade Center building, formerly May Co. Department Store, formerly Hamburger’s Department Store. This structure bordered by Broadway, Hill & 8th Streets has been purchased and is going under a major renovation. No one has the definitive on what or who will occupy the building but the rumors are all intriguing. I’ve heard that one floor will be the world headquarters of Beats by Dre which is owned by Apple. Another inside scoop is that the ground floor will be a “world’s fair of mindfulness.” There have been talks of high-end retail, residences and creative office space within this structure which takes up nearly an entire city block. Most importantly, this building is just a spectacular piece of 1906 Beaux Art architecture that’s been a long time coming in being re-appreciated.
Hal loves to tell how long it took to convince a grocery store to come downtown and finally Ralphs agreed. 7 1/2 years later, this store does $1 million a week in sales and is the #1 take-out deli in the entire Kroger corporation (parent company of Ralphs). While on the topic of grocery stores there were cheers from the audience for Whole Foods that’s currently under construction at 8th and Grand and Trader Joe’s that agreed to build, not exactly downtown, but rather in the new University Village project by USC. And we were reminded to be grateful for City Target and Smart & Final Extra…both incredibly clean, well stocked, and super helpful. Except, and I ask your indulgence here… I still don’t like the idea of having to bag my own groceries the way they expect you to at Smart & Final. And while I’m on the subject, I think we’ve all gotten pretty good about bringing our own bags BUT, If I did happen to forget my bags, I am really annoyed with the ten cent, or whatever it is, charge after I’ve spent $50+ on groceries. Why don’t all the stores who have to abide by this new law have a jar for charity and if you have to buy a bag, put a donation in a jar for the homeless–don’t make me have to give it to the store!
Now back to the chat: Brigham said people used to say that LA “had no soul” referring to no appreciation for the history of the city and vibrancy of life in those historic areas. Let it be said, the soul of LA is awakening. It’s happening in the revitalization of the old and the boldness of the new, including the Broad Museum and Plaza along with new residences and fun places to congregate like Pez Cantina at 400 S. Hope.
No conversation about DTLA is complete without a discussion of the homeless, the lack of affordable housing and the scarcity of owner-occupied buildings vs. rentals. These are conditions that affect every income level and the complexion of the city. The housing issue is under constant discussion by the city while the County of Los Angeles as well as the State of California needs to step up and get more involved. The care of the homeless should not just be left to the City of Los Angeles to figure out. Drugs, alcoholism and mental illness are conditions for which the County Health Departments must find solutions and provide relief. Unfortunately it’s the urban locales that bear a disproportionate number of these cases which lead to homelessness.
The Midnight Mission is one of the most active resources for the homeless in DTLA . They bring together DTLA residents and volunteers for an annual event in The Old Bank District that gets everyone involved in supporting the great work of this 100-year-old center dedicated to helping the homeless get off the street and become productive citizens.
“Vacant parking lots suck the life out of the city,” was one of my favorite Hal Bastian observations of the evening. He’s so right but I never thought about it that way. Of course this led to one of the other items on the wish list of everyone who cares about DTLA –more green space. Grand Park has been a tremendous asset but south of that there’s a big need. I must say, though, that I have a hummingbird feeder on my 8th floor balcony and I’m visited daily by a shimmering green little avian . When I look out my window and down to the trees on the street below, I sometimes catch a yellow butterfly flitting among the tree tops . Just think what we could have if a few more parking lots were turned into parks! I’m anxiously awaiting what we’ll see when the building across Hill street, which I see out our window, finishes the pool and community deck. I have high hopes that I’ll be looking out on planters and trees.
Which leads me to what Hal and Brigham shared about the 5,000 new residential units that will all be completed by the end of 2015. Only 68 of those 5,000 were for-sale units and they were in The Barker Block in the Arts District. The reason for this disparity, according to Hal, is that lenders are still stinging from the real estate fallout that resulted in so many short sales and foreclosures. They want to go for occupancy first, which hopefully will be followed by residents being offered the eventual opportunity to buy.
Here are a few more of the good things that we learned:
- Elysian Park just above DTLA has tennis courts, baseball fields, picnic areas, an awesome view of the city and great hiking trails. Hal is working on getting a corporate sponsorship for a DASH bus to take downtowners back and forth to this lovely place. Knowing Hal, he’ll make sure dogs are allowed on the bus, too!
- DTLA is the hub of a multi-billion dollar mass transit system. Union Station is a pretty impressive confluence of transportation options.
And with all this good news, instead of taking Uber home, I decided to walk and see for myself what the streets of DTLA were like on a relatively “quiet” Thursday night. Who knew that Bill Nye the Science Guy would bring out a crowd that stretched down Broadway and wound around 7th Street.
It’s always fun to discover something going on–like Bill Nye the Science Guy– that you didn’t even know about. And the gorgeous high ceilings in Clifton’s that were visible by night gave me a peak at what this long-awaited, multi-level restaurant and bar has going for it in the way of a landmark restoration and destination attraction to Broadway.
As I walked I started thinking retail…remembering Hal’s and Brigham’s claims about everything that’s been opening on Broadway including the newest: a Gap Factory Store, and the others that have come along in the past year or so such as Acne Clothing, Aesop, Tanner Leather Goods, Oak, and Urban Outfitters. “What else haven’t I noticed?” I wondered.
In the 700 Block of Broadway I came across a project in the works. The store used to be Rainbow and I actually bought a sundress there for $10 the first summer we lived downtown. The dress held up pretty well but it looks like some deeper pockets have an even better idea for what they want to do with this space.
I have high expectations for what I see happening here .
A block further south on the corner of Broadway and 8th, I noticed some art had gone into the three store fronts along 8th street (but tonight there was paper covering these windows so we’ll have to see what’s next). Here’s what it looked like on Thursday:
Next to Farago was a new shop and I loved their honesty. The name is LA EX and the tagline is “The Tiny Flagship Store.” I will definitely check them out this weekend.
In the same series of shops, the guy who used to make keys and repair shoes at The Broadway Exchange has a much nicer storefront now on 8th at Broadway.
As I walked past all these examples of what Hal and Brigham talked about, I realized that it’s a unique experience to be living in the midst of so much change. I’m looking forward to the fist episode of the TV show Hal is working on with Ryan Morris, the producer of the late, great Huell Howser’s TV show about California points of interest. Hal is the perfect guy to take this on–especially with all the new material that DTLA is giving us. Watch for “What’s Up Downtown? with Hal Bastian.”
I look forward to keeping up with all of Brigham Yen’s posts about what he’s hearing around town and hopefully continuing to discover one or two of my own.
We’re here for a reason and the only reason I can think of is to make this world a better place. Thank you Hal and Brigham for your passion, drive and commitment to this city we call home.