Los Angeles Reflection Paper

Los Angeles Reflection Paper
November 7, 2011

Reflection on the Los Angeles trip and highlights of the 2011 ULI Conference.

Place Making
The LA trip for me was continually punctuated with the idea of place making. This theme was seen from our hotel, where the conference was held, the sessions I attended and the field trip we took. In each instance we were constantly exposed to themes on place making that evoked conversations, demonstrated the power of place making and how it could be seen and experienced first hand.

The theme of place making for this trip started long before the trip began. Within the class we discussed and argued the original hotel location and the pros and cons of staying in a different location other than the conference. The majority of the class complained about the perceived disconnect from our original hotel location and the conference, worried that we would be spending a majority of our time stuck in hotel vans and commuting in LA traffic, to and from the conference. In response we moved locations to the downtown venue of the Standard hotel. A hotel which as many of us found out was ideally situated in downtown LA and contained one of the areas best night spots. The downtown location provided us a short walk to the convention center and back that brought us through different retail, restaurant and nightlife venues. With the hotel being a destination itself, we always had a place to go.

The walk from the hotel to the conference was a short one, which would bring you to the conference center, sportsplex and entertainment center of Downtown LA. The conference itself, held in a nagging facility, had direct access to one of LA’s newest mixed use developments – LA Live, an urban, mixed use development that was centered on outdoor events. The ULI conference exploited this space using it as a way to connect to downtown LA, hold gatherings and parties.

The ULI conference sessions continued using the theme of place making weaving this message in and out of sessions to touch on a cadre of issues, projects and successes. Two of the sessions that I participated in this year that were very focused on place making were: The Mechanics of Public Private Partnership and Development, Design and Financing Strategies for Urban Revitalization Using Hospitality and the Arts. Both sessions contained a place making theme in demonstrating their success and challenges. The session descriptions per the program were:

Development, Design and Financing Strategies for Urban Revitalization Using
Hospitality and the Arts
Hear about this successful mixed-use strategy, in which a public/private partnership includes the collaboration of art, architecture, government incentives, and private funding sources to contribute to urban revitalization and create a profitable business venture that is applicable in other cities.
Discussion Leaders:
Deborah Berke, Partner, Deborah Berke & Partners Architects
Craig Greenberg, Vice Chairman, 21c Museum Hotels

The Mechanics of Public Private Partnership
What’s the best way to create places that not only respond to the wants, needs and desires of the community, but are firmly embraced by stakeholders; how do you create public private coalitions of support; how do you create a vision that is clear, compelling, and achievable; how do you finance projects and get them developed? When it comes to establishing effective public-private partnerships, this panel of seasoned public and private sector professionals will answer these questions and offer valuable advice and insight.

Daniel P. Gehman, Principal, TCA
Discussion Leaders:
Laura Archuleta, President, Jamboree Housing Corporation
Michael LoGrande, Director, Department of Planning, City of Los Angeles
The Honorable Jan Perry, Council Member, Ninth District, Los Angeles City
Gregory M. Vilkin, Managing Principal and President, MacFarlane Partners
William A. Witte, President, Related Companies of California

The first session covered the development of a local boutique hotel in Louisville,
Kentucky. The hotel had found success during its redevelopment through creative partnerships. One such partnership was the design and theme of the hotel around a modern art collection. The hotel was not just a place to display art, but was designed to integrate ever changing modern art exhibits into its character, way finding, room design and amenities for its guests. This could be seen in the way the hotel directed guests using art pieces to name and denote floors and locations throughout the hotel. It could also be seen in the gallery and meeting space it provided to engage the local residents of the area and it helped to develop a signature for the hotel to base its branding and marketing. The hotel soon developed its commercial standard from this union of art and design in the form of its moveable red penguins, which were stationed throughout the hotel. As the hotel chain is growing and evolving in other locations they still center both their hotel designs and customer experience with the integration of art and their signature colored penguins. The redevelopment of the hotel and area also used place making to its advantage by controlling leases of other vacant commercial properties in adjacent storefronts. This leasing strategy helped the hotel create a community of interests and uses for local residents and patrons to use. This reinvestment and creation of place have helped to propel the development to the forefront.
The theme of place making was once again discussed during the second session as the panelist discussed public private partnerships. One of the key questions raised during the panel dealt with the future of the proposed Los Angeles football stadium. The panelists spent time discussing the place making themes and ways the new stadium could build on the synergy of uses and experiences of the current uses such as, LA Live and the conference center. The proposed stadium site will help city and the private business capitalize on the diversity of uses and the synergy from the accumulated uses in the area.

The site not only would facilitate the new stadium, but also propels private businesses and enhances public uses. The idea and theme of place making was discussed alongside and in terms of public and private partnerships. The City wants to ensure the new stadium facility compliments the existing facilities. The development must provide for a mix of uses containing office, retail and housing. All of the elements for place making would be components of the development and should be successfully incorporated through good design.

The last instance of place making we all experienced in Los Angeles was through a developer led tour of downtown LA and some specific properties. We were led on a tour by Tom Gilmore. The tour consisted of visiting his properties in the downtown LA area. When we first met, Mr. Gilmore took some time to explain how he had gotten into the development business and the current state of development in the downtown LA market when he began. At that time, as he explained, LA was an abandoned former shell of itself from the 50’s. During the 70’ and 80’s almost all of the commercial and residential market followed with the office uses had left downtown for newly developing areas around LA. This void left in downtown allowed Mr. Gilmore to start reinvesting in the city with very little money down. Mr. Gilmore built his development company around acquiring old historic buildings and retrofitting them for a combination of retail, office and residential uses. To help build his market he invested his own capital into retail spaces to provide amenities for his desired residential customers and to help bring traffic and a market to his properties. This effort also allowed him to control and create the type of places and environments he wanted. The use of the master leases gave him the control to not only fill his retail and ground floor spaces with needed amenities but to fill them with a diversity of uses that reinforced downtown LA’s sense of place. The creation and support of place drove his ability to capture the residential land office markets and allowed him to raise rents in an otherwise depressed development setting. He created the place to be.

The theme of place followed me through LA from where we stayed, to the sessions I heard at the conference and to the walking tour we took of Downtown LA. In every instance place was being defined, used and reinvented for us to watch and inhabit.

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