OPINION: DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - No matter where you look across the United States, there are still plenty of indicators of a down market. Economists may declare that the recession officially ended months ago, but that is little solace for those dealing with high unemployment, tight lending markets and too many home foreclosures.

Downtown Los Angeles still shows ample signs of the tough economy. At the same time, we are seeing glimmers of progress; a patchwork of large and small projects, and the involvement of notable business players behind them, gives evidence that the rebound has begun.

In just the past few weeks, fencing went up around the plot where Eli Broad’s $100 million art museum will rise; Hanjin International and its development partner Thomas Properties Group secured city approvals to build a $1 billion replacement for the Wilshire Grand hotel at Seventh and Figueroa streets; the 325,000-square-foot Chinatown Gateway broke ground; and Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds announced that it has taken over and will begin sales this month on the Arts District’s Barn Lofts.

These are not the only signs of progress. Construction began recently on both the renovation of the shopping center on the southwest corner of Seventh and Figueroa streets (home to a Target in fall 2012) and the Hope Street Family Center, a community project from Abode Communities and California Hospital Medical Center.

The most intriguing thing about this collection of developments is the names involved. Thomas Properties Group, Eli Broad, Target and Can­yon-Johnson are all shrewd business players with significant track records. They represent different fields (real estate, philanthropy, retail), and the fact that they are all putting money into the community indicates confidence in Downtown’s potential.

We acknowledge that this could be interpreted as looking at Downtown through rose-colored glasses. Naysayers will point at stalled developments such as Concerto, the Grand Avenue plan (one tower is on the front burner for a 2012 groundbreaking, but funds have not been secured) and the Brockman Building on Seventh Street. They’ll point to the lack of construction cranes on the skyline compared to a few years back.

They’re right about the stalled projects. However, we think those say less about the community right now than do these new developments. This does not herald a construction wave like the one that occurred around 2004, but it looks like a sign of a comeback.

page 4, 4/18/2011

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