Figueroa Corridor Plan Gains Steam
Darryl Holter, who heads the Figueroa Corridor Partnership, plans to apply for as much as $50 million to help fund an ambitious vision for remaking Figueroa Street. Photo by Gary Leonard.

A $100 million plan to turn the Figueroa Corridor into a thriving link connecting Downtown Los Angeles and USC could gain traction if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs an assembly bill that has reached his desk.

Earlier this year California voters approved a bond measure for infrastructure and other improvements. Now, AB 1053, authored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, has been amended and would allow business improvement districts statewide to apply for infrastructure improvement funding aimed at spurring affordable housing.

The measure could have particular impact in Downtown Los Angeles, where a wealth of projects are planned along the corridor, many spurred by Anschutz Entertainment Group's Staples Center and L.A. Live. Although some housing advocates have questioned the effect on affordable housing, AEG officials said the funding would help promote more development along the street.

Though still in the planning phase, Downtown's Figueroa Corridor Partnership has said it aims to partner with a city agency to seek $50 million. The group would need to raise $50 million in matching funds.

"We'd never be able to do this plan without this funding," said Darryl Holter, who chairs the business improvement district. "Connecting Downtown to the Exposition Park community is really important. If Figueroa becomes more of a transit corridor it will make it friendlier for pedestrians and encourage development to go south and spread investment into South L.A."

The ambitious plan would span four districts and three miles, from the Financial District at the Seventh Street Metro stop south through the Figueroa Corridor and down to USC and Exposition Park. Designed by Rios Clementi Hale Sudios, the "Figueroa Corridor: Connecting Communities" vision would create a pedestrian-oriented streetscape with parks, lush landscaping, patterned sidewalk paving, a bus line and the potential for transit-oriented housing developments.

The thoroughfare would be lined with a canopy of Washintonia palms interspersed with trees, shrubs and groundcover. While medians would be planted with trees and shrubs, sidewalks would sport a distinctive tri-colored rectangular pattern and pedestrian-level streetlights and traffic lamps. New developments would be required to have eight-foot setbacks to maintain the 15-foot-wide walkways. It would cost $36 million.

A centerpiece of the plan is the $23 million, 10-acre Bridge Park that would span the 110 Freeway between Figueroa, Flower and 23rd streets and Adams Boulevard. The majority of the green space is slated to occupy the northern half of the site, with a plaza off Flower Street. A transit center and plaza is planned for the southern half.

"We're pretty excited about the green space," Holter said. "Other cities are covering over freeways with parks so it can be done. If you look at New York's Central Park, sure it cost money, but look at the value of property around it."

The plan builds around the Exposition Line, currently under construction, which in 2010 will connect Downtown to Culver City via Exposition Park. Planners would also enhance existing access to the HOV lane along Figueroa.

Traffic flow would be improved with a new synchronization system, Holter said. A proposed $6 million bus line similar to the DASH, but unique to the corridor, would round out the transit options. Likewise, there would be a bike lane along Figueroa and Flower streets and additional bike racks.

Development plans in the area could bring up to 8,000 new residential units and support a population of about 25,000 people, all within a 10-minute walk of public transportation. A community plan recently amended by the City Council allows up to three times more density in new projects, creating more than 9 million square feet of potential development.

Hotbed of Activity

In recent years, Figueroa Street has become a hotbed of activity, prompted by the arrival of Staples Center in 1999 and now the $2.5 billion L.A. Live project; the entertainment district's first component, the Nokia Theatre, opens this month. Holter estimates there is an additional $2 billion of investment within the BID area, which is bounded by the 10 Freeway on the north, Exposition Park on the south, Flower Street on the east and Vermont Avenue on the west. Staples Center is in the South Park BID.

At least a dozen residential high-rises are planned or underway in the blocks around Staples Center, with several large-scale developments unfolding to the south. The $140 million Galen Center opened last November, and now hosts USC sporting events. The facility adds to the existing stock of landmarks in the area, including the L.A. Coliseum, the Sports Arena, the Shrine Auditorium and Exposition Park's museum row.

AEG, which owns Staples Center and is developing L.A. Live, has thrown its weight behind the effort, lobbying lawmakers to amend the assembly bill to allow business improvement districts to become eligible for the funding. The amended bill was pushed through on the last day of the regular session (as were numerous other bills). AEG and state officials said the idea had been in the works for some time.

Affordable housing proponents charge that the amendment would siphon funds from Prop 1C housing dollars to non-housing related infrastructure, and that AEG would directly benefit from the funds. AEG and its affiliates helped underwrite the state's bond campaign last year, which was championed by Núñez, and also contributed to Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas' campaign; Ridley-Thomas presented the bill on the senate floor.

Núñez said in a written statement that he had his staff take a deeper look at the issue after nonprofit housing developers complained, but still found merit in the amendments.

"It seems fair to me as long as you're doing competitive bidding," Núñez said.

AEG President Tim Leiweke said "not one penny" of the money would go to L.A. Live, and noted that the Figueroa Corridor BID still needs to apply, as do more than 50 statewide business entities.

"This funding is for the purpose of the Figueroa Corridor from USC to the edge of Downtown to create the great pedestrian and commuter passageway," Leiweke said. "We want to see a trolley, cycling, people going back and forth between hotels, businesses and anchors like the Convention Center, Coliseum and USC. This benefits anyone and everyone who lives, works and plays in Downtown L.A."

Though the timeline and rules for applying for the funding are not yet set, the bill requires that BIDs form a public-private partnership to apply for the funds. AEG officials met with the Community Redevelopment Agency several weeks prior to the bill's passage to discuss plans for the corridor.

"This does have potential for a very creative approach to bringing in state dollars for these enhancements," said Cecilia Estolano, the CRA's chief executive. "Voters intended these infrastructure improvements to facilitate the development of housing and affordable housing, and any application would need to include that.

"I would suspect the state would be looking for a clear link between infrastructure development and the development of housing," she added. "That's a fair trade. Voters' interest in this is to stimulate housing production at a variety of income levels."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger must sign or veto the bill by Oct. 14.

Contact Kathryn Maese at

page 1, 10/1/2007

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