What Happened to the $9 Million Seventh Street Improvement Plan?

DTLA - Beyond putting Downtown Los Angeles in the spotlight and raising the tallest building west of the Mississippi, the development of the $1.2 billion Wilshire Grand Center came with a different kind of benefit: a big pot of money to improve the nearby streetscape.

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The $9.175 million was set aside as part of developer Korean Air’s deal with the city to entitle and construct the Wilshire Grand. In 2015, the city unveiled a plan to upgrade the streetscape along four busy blocks of Seventh Street.

The developer and the Department of City Planning held multiple public meetings to court feedback on upgrades between Figueroa and Olive streets, with ideas including widening sidewalks, building protected bike lanes and transit platforms, and adding landscaping. Korean Air and its local development partner AC Martin, not the city, were slated to handle the construction.

“There are efficiencies here because they already have to do streetscape improvements around their site,” City Planner Nicholas Maricich said in a March 2015 Los Angeles Downtown News article. “We’re getting more bang for the buck rather than doing the work via a bid.”

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Why Has a $9 Million Plan to Improve Seventh Street Stalled?

In 2015, city officials were considering improvement plans for Seventh Street including wider sidewalks and protected bike lanes. The work never occurred.

Although the 73-story landmark was dedicated on June 23, no improvements have come to the street. About $1 million was spent for the outreach and initial design planning in past years.

Now city officials are talking about using that money as part of a far more expansive plan to upgrade Seventh Street beyond the Financial District, all the way to the Arts District.

As with the first round of plans, proposals include expanding bike infrastructure and preparing for a growth of transit, while also beautifying sidewalks and making Seventh Street more suitable for pedestrians, especially toward the east.

When Downtown stakeholders might actually see those improvements remains to be determined, as a schedule for the upgrades does not yet exist. The city took an initial step last week by assigning the city Department of Transportation and Bureau of Engineering the task of leading the project.

Public meetings will take place in coming months to detail the vision and get ideas from stakeholders along the corridor, according to the office of 14th District City Councilman José Huizar.

“The earlier conceptual design process and the feedback we received from stakeholders was valuable because it showed us what was possible, as well as what was not,” Huizar said in a statement to Los Angeles Downtown News. “More importantly, we learned what we really need to do is serve the entire DTLA portion of Seventh Street and expand the project into a comprehensive, east-west, multi-modal effort that serves all our Seventh Street neighborhoods and extends from the 110 Freeway to the L.A. River.”

The DOT expects to have “concrete plans” for the Seventh Street improvement project by the end of the year, added agency spokesman Bruce Gillman.

Streetcar Complications

The project is complex, as Seventh Street is a key corridor in other ongoing efforts, including the city’s broad Mobility Plan 2035 (which could change or add transit paths) and the proposed Downtown streetcar. Indeed, the sheer number of ideas and uncertainties derailed the initial plan, which aimed to beautify the streets around the Wilshire Grand with new curbs, lights, bus stops and greenery, said Chris Martin, CEO and chairman of AC Martin.

Martin supports the streetcar, but acknowledged it was the biggest challenge to moving the initial streetscape plan forward. Indecision on where and how the streetcar would turn right onto Seventh Street created the risk that upgrades would have to be ripped out and replaced in the future, he said. It did not help that a growing list of ideas from City Planning and other departments increased the scale of the project considerably.

“It’s a problem in this type of project when you bring everyone in and the work grows geometrically,” Martin said. “Everyone was adding vast ideas, and it became clear it was more than we could tackle, and far beyond the dollars we had. It’s unfortunate.”

The design process may be resuming, but the daunting task of fundraising lies ahead. No overall budget has been announced, and the city has not earmarked funding sources beyond the roughly $8 million remaining from the Wilshire Grand pot and a $2 million Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program grant, which would be used around Skid Row.

“The primary function of the grant is to fund affordable housing, but it allows us to do some pedestrian, bike and mobility work as well,” said Eddie Guerrero, a senior transportation engineer with DOT.

The existing dollars will be used as leverage when the city begins seeking other financing, whether state Active Transportation Program grants, federal funds or private investment, said Huizar spokesman Rick Coca.

It is unclear when more funding will be secured. The next milestone will be for the city to complete 30% of the preliminary engineering design. That will happen by May, according to Huizar’s office.

eddie@downtownnews.com

Twitter: @eddiekimx

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2017