Change Is Coming to the Fashion District

The Griffin on Spring apartment building.

DTLA—A few weeks ago, developer Holland Partner Group celebrated the opening of its Grace on Spring and Griffin on Spring housing complexes. The two 24-story buildings at Eighth and Spring streets created a total of 575 apartments.

The project is by far the biggest residential play in the Fashion District in decades. But if the kind of change and development momentum that has hit other Downtown Los Angeles neighborhoods is a precedent, then additional large projects will soon follow. Stakeholders in the neighborhood, long home to tens of thousands of jobs in the apparel industry, should brace for a shift in the very fabric of the community.

Grace and Griffin Open in the Fashion District

We say this because we have seen other Downtown neighborhoods flip into residential hubs seemingly overnight. The most recent salient example is the Arts District, where street parking has become nearly impossible to find and once-empty sidewalks now teem with weekend life in the wake of the arrival of thousands of housing units. Before that, districts such as the Historic Core and South Park went from being dead after dark to buzzing, nearly 24-hour locales following a wave of construction.

While the early Downtown housing projects were frequently adaptive reuse efforts that turned defunct office buildings into apartments, more often these days we are seeing the rise of new steel and glass towers. That is also the case in the Fashion District. In 2015 developer Capital Foresight established a residential beachhead with the 77-unit Garment Lofts on Eighth Street, and the next year the same developer opened the nearby 96-apartment Max Lofts. Now comes the ground-up Grace and Griffin towers and a roster of modern amenities such as pools and dog runs.

The Holland Partner project is almost three times as big as both of the Capital Foresight buildings combined, and other housing developers will pay close attention to how quickly the market-rate Grace and Griffin fill up. Investors have a follow-the-leader mindset when they see profit potential.

Other neighborhood indicators also prefigure a change. Brookfield, one of the biggest landowners in Downtown, last November announced a $170 million overhaul of the California Market Center, with plans to offer creative office space and retail. The massive three-building complex that opened in 1962 will still hold some of its traditional fashion showrooms where designers meet with store buyers, but the coming work will likely draw tenants with the type of young employees we have seen arrive in the Arts District and Historic Core. When those populations move in, housing tends to follow.

Turnaround Coming to the California Market Center

This is not to say that the apparel trade will flee the Fashion District. Other showroom buildings, related businesses and the presence of the design college FIDM form a healthy base for the industry. The community will continue to serve as a regional jobs hub for a long time.

Still, even after nearly two decades of intense investment in Downtown, a vast jobs-housing imbalance remains, and when new apartment complexes get approximately $4 a square foot from renters, developers will keep building. Leaders in the Fashion District should be aware of what the future may bring.

Copyright 2019 Los Angeles Downtown News