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L.A. City Council greenlights major downtown development

3/29/2011, 10:39 a.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--The Los Angeles City Council today approved plans for a sweeping redevelopment of the Wilshire Grand hotel, despite some concerns about digital signs and lighting expected to cover the new high-rise buildings on the property.

On a 12-0 vote, the council approved an agreement with Thomas Properties and Korean Air to develop Wilshire Grand, an estimated $1.2 billion project that will include a 45-story tower housing a luxury hotel and residential units and a 65-story office tower at Seventh and Figueroa streets in downtown Los Angeles.

"This is a groundbreaking project,'' Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes the project area, said. "This is a project that is an investment in our entire city.''

She applauded the project's job-creation benefits and said it will bring in $22 million a year in desperately needed revenue for the city's general fund beginning in 2015.

Developers said the project would create 7,300 construction jobs and 6,200 permanent jobs.

But not everyone was satisfied with the project. Councilman Bill Rosendahl initially voted against the agreement, saying he was concerned the city would not receive any money from about 33,000 square feet of digital advertising that will cover the lower few stories of the buildings.

"The benefits far outweigh the liabilities for building the hotel,'' he said, "But it's that revenue stream from those billboards that we don't seem to be able to get our hands on.''

After the initial 12-1 vote, with Rosendahl dissenting, the council voted again on reconsideration. This time, Rosendahl stepped out of the room, giving the project a unanimous 12-0 vote--meaning the issue will not have to return to the council for a second vote.

The project's digital signage and lighting would nearly cover the two towers from top to bottom, with the first 150 feet devoted to advertising.

The city Planning Department initially declined the developers' plans to install LED lighting art that would display from 150 feet above the ground to near the buildings' tops. The Council overruled the department and approved the lighting plan with a new sign ordinance that will apply only to the 3.2-acre project site downtown.

During today's debate, Rosendahl asked his colleagues to approve all parts of the agreement except the new sign ordinance.

"Let's get people back to work. Let's build a beautiful hotel, and put the sign district on hold until we have more clarity,'' Rosendahl said. "If we approve the entitlement of the sign district today, that puts the developer with a bigger muscle than the city.''

Rosendahl failed to get any support from his council colleagues, and the development plan was approved in its entirety.

The plan calls for demolition of the existing Wilshire Grand hotel to begin in December. The renovation is scheduled to be completed by 2015.

By Richie Duchon | City News Service