DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - For a contaminated, 20-acre site on the southeastern edge of Downtown, the fourth time was finally the charm. 

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The Cleantech Manufacturing Center broke ground on April 10, more than four-and-a-half years after then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced a deal to activate the parcel at Washington Boulevard and 15th Street. That deal fell apart, and was only the start of a string of setbacks stemming from factors including, but not limited to, a tumbling economy and polluted land.

Now, the project is moving forward. Developer Trammell Crow Company and its partner, Principal Real Estate Investors, have begun construction on a 370,000-square-foot campus that will create three new buildings. Two of them will be occupied by clothing manufacturer Ambiance USA.

“It’s been a very long haul,” said Brad Cox, senior managing director for Trammell Crow. 

For two years, Cox said, Trammell Crow has worked with the city to attract clients to the troubled site. Securing Ambiance USA was a coup, as the fashion company had been looking to expand into Vernon. Instead, 160 jobs will come to Downtown.

Trammell Crow is also in negotiations with a company that uses “cutting-edge technologies in manufacturing and production” to occupy the third building, Cox said. He hopes to finalize the deal in the next couple of months. 

When all is said and done, he said, there will be more than 200 jobs on the site. He called that a big turnaround for a property that has been vacant for more than 30 years.

“We’re creating over 350 union construction jobs during the development. We’re very excited,” he said. 

According to Trammell Crow, the campus, located within half a mile of the 10, 5 and 60 freeways, offers the largest contiguous industrial space in Downtown. The project is being designed for truck access, and will include 52 loading docks. Trammell Crow is pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification for the project from the U.S. Green Building Council. Eco-friendly elements will include a rainwater harvesting system.

Completion is expected this year, he said.

Dirty Ground

For the longest time, “completion” seemed out of reach.  

The city purchased the site from the state for $14 million in April 2008. The land, adjacent to the Los Angeles River, has a long history of industrial users, which led to heavy contamination. Part of the site was occupied by the Crown Coach company as a manufacturing hub, and another section was occupied by Amtrak machine shops and railcar repair facilities. According to the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency, there was a railcar spill in the late 1970s or early ’80s. Other pollutants came from the repair work. 

The city envisioned the project as the pearl in a necklace of eco-oriented businesses running along the river through and out of Downtown. The project was spearheaded by the CRA.

A big step came in 2009 when Villaraigosa announced that a deal had been signed with Italian railcar maker AnsaldoBreda to develop a 240,000-square-foot, $70 million manufacturing facility on a 14.3-acre portion of the property. The company was slated to build 100 light-rail cars for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Instead, the deal fell apart before its midnight deadline on Oct. 30, 2009, when AnsaldoBreda refused to sign the contract it had negotiated.

Following that, the CRA was poised to strike a deal with electric car company Coda Automotive, which sought to develop a plant to manufacture batteries. That deal dissipated the morning it was slated for CRA board consideration. 

Having no success in leasing the property, the CRA then opted to sell the site, but that led to new problems. A proposed acquisition by Culver City-based Genton Property Group collapsed in July 2011. The firm cited contamination issues when it backed out of the deal.

Finally, in November 2011, the CRA board of commissioners approved a $15.4 million sale — the same amount remaining on the loan — to Trammell Crow. The terms were negotiated, finalized and approved, though even that produced hiccups. The proposed transaction coincided with Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to shutter CRAs throughout California. The move complicated any in-process deals.

Still, Trammell Crow worked with city officials and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control to solve the complex environmental problems associated with the property, Cox said. The city spent $2.2 million cleaning the site.

At the groundbreaking this month, 14th District City Councilman José Huizar lauded Trammell Crow for their perseverance in getting the long-blighted property to “spring to life” and keep an “important fashion manufacturer” in the city. 

Fred Walti, executive director of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, an Arts District-based nonprofit that works to nurture the growth of green technology companies in the city, praised Trammell Crow for continuing to push the project. 

“It has been a long journey, and there have been a lot of environmental issues, so kudos to Trammell Crow that they kept at it,” Walti said. “Having a manufacturing center there is going to make a real difference in that part of the city.”  

donna@downtownnews.com

Twitter: @donnadowntown

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014

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