Developer to Buy Park Site and Build Mid- and High-Rise Project

The $1.3 billion Park Fifth development, slated for a parking lot north of Pershing Square, was hotly anticipated but fell through because of financing struggles in the wake of the recession. 

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — The Park Fifth project was one of the most notable casualties of the recession. Instead of a $1.3 billion complex highlighted by a 76-story condominium tower overlooking Pershing Square, Downtown ended up with a parking lot. For months the closest Park Fifth came to reality was a paint-splattered sign.

Those who fretted over the failure of a high-rise at the northeast corner of Fifth and Olive streets might be able to take a breather: Heavyweight real estate investor MacFarlane Partners is in escrow to purchase the Park Fifth parcel and plans to construct a mid- and high-rise complex for residential and retail use.

Escrow is scheduled to close next March, said MacFarlane Partners Managing Principal and President Gregory Vilkin. The negotiations for the purchase began about nine months ago. No purchase price or timeline has been revealed.

Vilkin said MacFarlane Partners is in the midst of the project design process and is amending the existing entitlements on the parcel. He said the development will have around 600,000 square feet of space, about half the square footage of the Park Fifth plan.

“This reduction will also cut back the environmental impacts such as pollution and traffic, which were also points of conflict with the old  project,” Vilkin said. “It’s more realistic.”

Park Fifth was one of the most attention-generating projects of the previous Downtown real estate boom. Developer David Houk envisioned a 76-story tower and a 44-floor structure connected by a 15-floor residential building, a 212-room hotel and retail and restaurant space. In a June 2007 “introduction” of the project to Downtowners held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, servers passed out Wolfgang Puck appetizers and what were dubbed Park Fifth Martinis.

The project was approved by the Community Redevelopment Agency in April 2008 and by the City Council a month later. Houk planned to break ground by the end of 2008. However, that timeline coincided with the onset of the national recession, and Houk was never able to move forward as the lending markets froze.

The proposed MacFarlane development comes amid a debate about how to spur more high-rise development in Downtown. There are increasing concerns that low-density, wood-frame construction is taking over key parcels across the Central City, as these projects tend to be easier to finance and build than high-rises.

In an effort to combat the trend, 14th District City Councilman José Huizar authored a motion that would push incentives for high-rise development while prohibiting low-rise structures in certain parts of Downtown for 18 months. The area around Pershing Square is one of the places where the moratorium would be in effect.

Vilkin said that MacFarlane’s plans for the parcel would not conflict with the moratorium. Huizar’s office is in favor of the company’s current plan, in fact.

“We saw a number of proposals for that parcel and there was a lot of inconsistency with regard to the vision of a denser, more efficient Downtown,” said Paul Habib, chief of staff for Huizar. “So it was great to see a big name backing an ambitious project that really has optimal growth in mind.”

MacFarlane has collaborated on several high-profile Downtown Los Angeles projects, most notably partnering with Anschutz Entertainment Group on the 1,001-room Convention Center hotel. It was also a development partner for the Sakura Crossing and Hikari apartments in Little Tokyo, Metropolitan Lofts in South Park and the residential conversion of 1100 Wilshire.

“We’re delighted to be back in Los Angeles to develop an under-utilized parcel of land, one that’s been promised development for decades — and now we’re going to make it happen,” Vilkin said.

Twitter: @eddiekimx

Copyright 2013 Los Angeles Downtown News