DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Developer Geoff Palmer has built more Central City apartments than anyone else, but the man behind the Tuscan villa-inspired complexes such as the Medici and Orsini has stayed on the outskirts of Downtown.
Palmer, who heads the firm G.H. Palmer Associates, has partnered with parking lot giant L&R Group on a plan to develop a massive, two-building complex that would straddle Olympic Boulevard at Broadway. Part of the project calls for a 10-story, 439-unit apartment building on what is now a surface parking lot between Broadway and Main Street, just north of Olympic. It would rise directly across from the future Ace Hotel, which is under construction inside the United Artists Theater building.
The second edifice is envisioned as a six-story, 247-unit structure that would rise on the lot on Broadway just south of Olympic Boulevard. It would require the demolition of a small building that now fronts Olympic Boulevard. Palmer intends to connect the two addresses via an elevated pedestrian bridge, a design element common in his other projects, according to plans filed with the city.
Word of the plan initially had some Broadway stakeholders on edge. While most area property owners support creating more housing, they worried that Palmer’s signature faux Italian Renaissance design would stick out in the historic district.
“There was absolutely a concern,” said Steve Needleman, the owner of the Orpheum Theater and Anjac Fashion, which controls several Broadway area buildings. “It was a quiet talk of our little neighborhood.”
However, those concerns have been largely assuaged. Early designs for the project appear to take inspiration from the district’s older stone buildings. They depict structures clad in a red brick veneer, with off-white colored podiums and crowns. The street-level podiums include the type of columns common in old bank buildings.
“I’m very excited,” Needleman said. “Is every project exactly what you want? Not necessarily. It’s maybe a little larger to scale than what I might want, but overall I’m excited.”
Palmer, who owns 2,562 housing units among his four Downtown complexes, did not respond to requests for comment.
In pursuing a development in the core of Downtown, Palmer is also entering new territory in terms of local planning rules. In City West, he did not have to adhere to the Downtown Design Guidelines, a framework that the Planning Department applies to all proposed projects in the area (he was, however, affected by the Central City West Specific Plan, though he successfully challenged the plan’s affordable housing mandates).
On top of the Downtown rules, Palmer’s project is also bound by the 2008 Broadway Design Guidelines, which were established to protect the aesthetic character of the nationally registered historic district. They include a requirement that all buildings in the zone must be at least 100 feet tall. The stricture is intended to maintain the general roofline of the street, but it has major implications for developers.
In Los Angeles, once a building surpasses 75 feet, earthquake and fire safety codes demand that it be composed of steel and concrete, as opposed to the much less expensive wood framing. The southern parcel in the Palmer project is not in the overlay zone, so it could stay below the 75-foot level.
Palmer originally filed plans for a 75-foot tall structure on the northern parcel too, but the property’s placement in the overlay zone requires the building to reach the 100-foot threshold. Recently adjusted plans for the north building now satisfy that requirement, said Blake Lamb, the city planner handling the project.
The project remains preliminary and could see changes in the coming months. The guidelines require projects of the size proposed by Palmer and L&R to include a pedestrian corridor linking Broadway and Main Street. So far, plans filed with the city don’t include such a passageway.
While the Broadway guidelines are somewhat flexible and the developer could apply for a variance, city officials are poised to enforce them to the extent possible, in part because the Palmer/L&R project could be precedent setting, said Jessica Wethington McLean, who oversees 14th District City Councilman José Huizar’s Broadway revitalization effort.
The project would be the first ground-up construction within the overlay zone.
“We made it really clear from the beginning that when it comes to the design rules, we wrote those rules, and we’re not going to support amending them with the first horse out of the gate,” Wethington McLean said.
Another potential concern for the project involves the proposal to build the north structure up against the future headquarters of the Tarina Tarantino jewelry company, also known as the Sparkle Factory.
That building’s southern façade bears a mural by famed British street artist Banksy. The property owners are in talks with Palmer and L&R’s representatives to try to preserve the mural and avoid blocking the structure’s southern windows. At 100 feet, the proposed building would cover the entire Tarantino edifice.
“My concern was for taking the Banksy and making sure they didn’t build right up against our building, but they seem to be open to the idea,” said Alfonso Campos, Tarantino’s husband and business partner. “I think so far they’re willing to meet with everyone to ensure they get everyone’s support.”
No information has been released on the budget for the project. According to G.H. Palmer Associates’ website, an opening is slated for 2017.
Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at firstname.lastname@example.org.