Polish the Ten Minute Diamond
The plan was initially created to stop the departure of public agencies from Downtown Los Angeles. Since 1997, local projects within the Diamond include the refurbishment of City Hall, the Caltrans headquarters, built by the state at First and Main streets, and a facility for the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. Photo by Gary Leonard.

It is time to re-polish the Ten Minute Diamond.

The Diamond is the master plan for the Los Angeles Civic Center, approved by the city and county exactly 10 years ago.

The Diamond defines the Civic Center as the territory within a 10-minute walk of the landmark tower of Los Angeles City Hall. It was a product of the Los Angeles Civic Center Authority, a Joint Powers Authority of the city and county, with participation by state and federal governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), Metropolitan Water District and Los Angeles Unified School District. In short, all seven major governments and public agencies located Downtown.

With almost 90% of the initial Plan's mission complete, the Authority should reconvene its all-star consulting team and update the Ten Minute Diamond to provide similar "brilliant" guidance for the next decade.

The Ten Minute Diamond Plan was drafted in 1997 in an almost desperate attempt to stanch the out-migration of public agencies from Downtown. The Historic Core was in dire straits and the imminent departure of major governments, some of the last remaining tenants, threatened the final blow.

The Diamond Plan was prepared by a public/private planning team, led by City Architect Bill Holland and a marquee list of urbanists including Bill Fain, Doug Suisman, Charles Loveman, Rowland Wiley and Steve Lewis. The team identified 6 million square feet of new government facilities that could be housed or re-housed Downtown, all within a diamond-shaped area surrounding City Hall. These new facilities provided a unique, one-time opportunity to reverse the Central City's downward trend and catalyze private investment as well.

The Plan was published in 1997, widely lauded in the press and recognized with national planning awards.

Then the work began.

Each level of government voluntarily focused its facilities planning on a resurgent Downtown Los Angeles, and engaged in unprecedented levels of intergovernmental cooperation and cost-sharing.

The federal government renovated three existing buildings (200 N. Main St., the Roybal Building and the Federal Courthouse) and moved forward with a major new courthouse.

The state of California conclusively demonstrated the cost efficiency of adaptive re-use of historic buildings (including the Junipero Serra Building on Fourth Street), inspiring dozens of subsequent loft conversions, followed by its Caltrans headquarters, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne. All were within the Ten Minute Diamond.

The state also became the leader in forging cooperative partnerships with other governments, buying, selling, trading and managing facilities within the Diamond, actually working together.

The county of Los Angeles followed suit with the world-famous Walt Disney Concert Hall, Grand Avenue Plan and recently restarted restoration work on our last unpolished Civic Center gem, the historic Hall of Justice.

In the same spirit, the city of Los Angeles restored and seismically upgraded its iconic City Hall and completed modernization work on all of its Civic Center facilities. A new 911 Call Center is complete, an Emergency Operations Center and fire station are under construction and the much awaited replacement for Parker Center is coming out of the ground. Again, each of these public buildings - it seems remarkable in retrospect - is located within close walking distance, joining the previously completed Metro and MWD headquarters as civic "facets" of the Ten Minute Diamond.

In fact, every major public building, with the exception of headquarters facilities for the Los Angeles Unified School District and the city Bureau of Engineering, both of which acquired existing buildings elsewhere Downtown, has been located within the 10-minute walk prescribed by the 1997 Diamond Plan.

The momentum has spread beyond public agencies. Religious and cultural organizations, including the Los Angeles Archdiocese (which built the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels), the Colburn School and the Japanese American National Museum have invested heavily in the Diamond zone in the past decade. Private sector investments, including the adaptive reuse of historic buildings and development of new rental and for-sale housing, are now demonstrating that a true "Civic Center" consists of more than government buildings.

Other highly anticipated improvements in the development pipeline include the Plaza de Cultura in El Pueblo, the First Avenue (Calle Primera) improvement plan, a spectacular Performing Arts High School and expansion of the Metro light rail Gold Line into Little Tokyo and beyond. In all, approximately 90% of the work contemplated in the original Diamond Plan is complete or well underway.

So why is an update of the Ten Minute Diamond Plan merited today?

First, it is apparent that some of the most difficult and important linkages in the Civic Center remain to be solved. For example, renovation of the Los Angeles Mall, recently and bravely championed by City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, offers fascinating opportunities for reconnecting the Civic Center with El Pueblo and Union Station, resurrecting the surprisingly feasible prospect of literally bridging over the 101 Freeway.

Several publicly owned properties around City Hall, including the former state office building and Parker Center sites, offer attractive opportunities for further consolidation of government agencies within the Diamond, and for expansion of other elements of the civic "mix" including housing, retail, cultural and social services. Small, neighborhood-serving parks in the Historic Core are still badly needed.

Ultimately, and perhaps most important, the threads that tie it all together, the sidewalks themselves, are still begging for better treatment, including easy investments like pedestrian-oriented lighting, "traffic calming," shade trees and retail and restaurant activities resurrecting store fronts and spilling out onto sidewalks. The recent establishment of a Downtown Design Studio under Emily Gabel-Luddy in the city Planning Department is an important first step for completing these links.

The Ten Minute Diamond has demonstrated that separate and sovereign levels of government can come together with the private sector and collectively and cooperatively create an environment to reflect the complexity, and enhance the potential, of civic life in Los Angeles. Capitalizing on this momentum, the Civic Center Authority should be reconvened and tasked to chart further progress for the Ten Minute Diamond in the next 10 years.

Dan Rosenfeld is a principal with Urban Partners LLC, a Downtown-based real estate investment and development firm. He was a member of the Ten Minute Diamond planning team from 1995 to 1998.

page 5, 9/17/2007

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