The Los Angeles Times article on how Grand Avenue will become LA's version of Columbus Circle is understandably skeptical, however there are points raised by both Related and the article that need to be discussed - and debated. The good news is that this project is NOT the suburban, mall like, enclosed space that is Time Warner Center. It is also not the sterile, ugly architecture that is Time Warner Center.
The other good news is that this does not need to be a stand alone, separated from the rest of downtown project that the article infers it is doomed to become due to its unique geographical - and topographic constraints.
First, the opening of the article:
Hello, Columbus: An L.A. Street Looks to a New York Circle
Developer sees the vibrant Manhattan hub as a model for Grand Avenue. Replicating its upscale atmosphere would be a challenge.
By Cara Mia DiMassa Times Staff Writer June 19, 2006 NEW YORK
Wedged between Lincoln Center and the theater district, Columbus Circle had long been known as an urban landmark inexplicably lacking the hustle and bustle of the rest of Manhattan. But two years ago, developer Related Cos. opened the 55-story mega-complex known as Time Warner Center here - and, largely as a result, the area has been transformed. The "mini-city" boasts some of New York's most expensive restaurants as well as luxury condos, a five-star hotel, a Whole Foods Market and, soon, a museum - all within a few blocks.
Related is now preparing to break ground on another mega-complex: the $1.8-billion, Frank Gehry-designed Grand Avenue project in downtown Los Angeles. When people ask what Grand Avenue will look and feel like, the developers at Related often point to Columbus Circle.
But a visit to Manhattan makes it clear that despite some similarities, replicating the upscale atmosphere and vibrant pedestrian life of Columbus Circle is going to be a challenge. The circle, though once sleepy, had a large, well-heeled residential population living nearby and is located within a quick walk of Central Park, Fifth Avenue's shopping district and Broadway.
By contrast, Grand Avenue is on Bunker Hill, on the far north side of downtown. The area is home to Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art, but it is a long uphill walk from other local institutions, including the Central Library, Staples Center and the increasingly trendy South Park district.
Time Warner Center's shops feed off a much denser array of offices and residential buildings than Grand Avenue's shops would. In Columbus Circle, the upscale businesses are sustained both by residents who live nearby and workers at the center's namesake company, media titan Time Warner. Though Grand Avenue will have some office space in its third phase, most of the high-rise units are set aside for hotel rooms, condos and low-income affordable housing. Related has touted both developments for their village concept, including shopping, homes, businesses and even subway stops in one sprawling development.
To begin with, the shopping areas and restaurants of this project almost all open to the outdoors. Even the second and third story restaurants are planned to have outdoor dining terraces. Grand Avenue will also be designed by a world class architecture - and not a corporate drone. These two factors alone will make Grand Avenue a far different - and far better - project than the boring, suburban (though financially successful) project that is Time-Warner Center.
This will be an urban and not a suburban center.
As for the lack of office space in the project - Bunker Hill is already filled with high rise office buildings. It is also within a few blocks of the rest of the financial district. The lack of office space in this project does not in itself differentiate it from Columbus Circle.
This project is also closer to our Music Center than Time-Warner is to Lincoln Center - and it is far closer to our hopefully soon to re-open Broadway Theater District than Time-Warner is to their Broadway Theater District.
Additionally, new development is planned on all four sides of Bunker Hill- with a high rise just announced at Grand and Sunset Boulevard - and that will eventually make Grand Avenue and Bunker Hill more of a central location.
However, one major factor that is not being considered is that the two Red Line subway stations - once they are properly integrated into Bunker Hill - will make Grand Avenue a major transit hub. People will be able to get there - with no transfer needed - from the new urban centers of North Hollywood, CityWalk/Universal City, Korea Town, Hollywood Highland and Hollywood. Eventually even the Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills, Westwood and Santa Monica will have direct subway access to Bunker Hill and Grand Avenue.
By then, almost every major dense, multi-use urban center in Los Angeles will directly connect to Bunker Hill - without having to change trains
So while 'shopping centers' such as the Grove will not be directly connected - no one goes for the Grove for an urban experience. It is a well designed shopping center - period.
Additionally, if the Grand Avenue Park is correctly done - then it too will be a major regional destination. While it is much smaller than Central Park - hopefully it will be very densely used so that it will have comparable numbers of people who are within easy walking distance of Central Park from Time-Warner.
The biggest obstacle, though, that is addressed in the article - but not really discussed in depth is that Bunker Hill is on... a hill.
And that is the project's biggest drawback - at the moment. Even one of the leaders of the Grand Avenue Committee - Bill Thomas - once told me that no city center has ever been built on a hill-top.
What is surprising to me, though - is not on one has ever publicly discussed this how this problem can be turned into... an advantage.
What no one seems to understand that with a few simple fixes, getting onto Bunker Hill will be faster and easier than walking a few blocks within the flat areas of downtown.
If once you get out of the subway at 1st and Hill or 4th and Hill - if you can automatically step onto an escalator or an elevator that will instantly take you to either Olive or Grand - it will become far easier and faster to get to Grand Avenue than to walk two blocks in any other direction.
And if when you walk to Hill Street from the Broadway Theater District or the new shopping districts developing in the Historic Core, district, you can also quickly ride to the top of the Hill - the so-called obstacle becomes... the path of least resistance.
Bunker Hill becomes the easiest neighborhood to access instead of the hardest.
Add to that the DASH bus system and the proposed Red Car line that will connect Staples/LA Live with the Historic Core/Broadway Theater District and Grand Avenue - and the hill-top obstacle... vanishes.
Plus the converse if true. When people who are on Bunker Hill want to go down to the Theater District or the new shopping districts in the Historic Core, they will just have to step on either a bus, tram, elevator or escalator - and they will be at the bottom of the hill.
There is only one caveat to all this. While I have heard a lot of talk about connecting Grand Avenue with the subway system - and the rest of downtown - I have yet to see the specifics of how this linkage is to happen. And that is something that the developers of Grand Avenue need to address - now.