ULI Orange County/Inland Empire What’s New?

ULI Transit Oriented Design Field Trip

By: Ron Nestor, AIA
Sr. Principal with WHA Architects, Planners & Designers

Last month, 32 attendees met at the Tustin train station and took Metrolink to Union Station for the ULI’s annual field trip focusing on new transit-oriented developments in Los Angeles.  For many, it was their first visit to this 1938 landmark, an interesting blend of Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco.

There, in the spectacular historic ticketing hall, officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority presented major transit improvements under construction or planned, including the Regional Connector, a new segment of downtown subway with three stations that will significantly improve rider convenience and reduce transfers.  Twenty major projects will be completed before the 2028 Olympic Games.  They also described new improvements to Union Station, removing parking areas, creating more public squares and improving pedestrian connections to the adjacent historic Plaza.

Matt Shannon, Managing Director of Urbanus Group led us to the Metro Red Line exiting the Metro Center station, where we walked a few blocks to two developments by Carmel Partners.    At nearly 500,000 square feet, “Eighth and Grand” provides 700 apartments on a three-acre site, with retail and Whole Foods on the ground floor.  Entered off Grand, the lobby has the look and feel of a chic hotel with a large front desk and a lobby (coffee) bar.  Artwork prominently covers the walls and the leasing office appears as a loosely defined casual corner off the lobby.  On the second floor, we visited the spacious common area open to large courtyards with lounge areas, a large kitchen, a bar area adjacent to the theater, and a distinctive pool table.  Sliding glass walls seamlessly connect the space to the pool and barbeque courtyards.  It looks like a great place to party or hang with friends.  We toured Whole Foods with the Regional Vice President who explained the constraints and successes of the space.  A four-level parking basement underlies the development.

Across the street was the even more chic Atelier, a 33-story luxury apartment with 363 units on one acre.  The very tall first floor gave the lobby a remarkable airy quality.  The mail room, behind the long stone front desk had low dark granite walls topped by very tall clerestory windows with a dramatic light fixture.  On to the fifth level podium deck (parking occupies the first four levels) where the same dramatic dark stone accents living rooms, a spacious kitchen, theater, yoga room, gym, and a library-like business center.  Expansive doors opened to a large recreation deck and pool overlooking surrounding properties.  A ride to the 33rd floor took us to another recreation deck (and jacuzzi) with expansive views of the Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory, Santa Monica and Palos Verdes.  Here, in the Sky Room, the Central City Association and the Los Angeles Planning Department presented exciting things to come.

For our final destination, via the Metro Expo Line was USC’s new University Village.  My first impression was “Hogwarts” as we neared the huge complex.  In a new version of the historic collegiate architectural style that predominates USC’s main campus, University Village takes on a unique Gothic quality with pointed arches verses rounded. There are six large buildings on 15 acres.  Two additional future buildings are planned, and then a large future expansion on an adjacent lot is anticipated.  Currently there are 2,500 beds in 663 units, a 33,000 SF Target, a 14,000 SF Trader Joes, numerous ground floor restaurants, shops, and a 38,000 SF university -operated gym around a large public square.  Of particular interest was the explanation of the exterior skin construction.  The use of large prefabricated panels with patterned brick and cast-stone reduced construction time so that all buildings could open simultaneously before the start of the school year.  Traditional construction techniques would have taken nearly an additional year.  Our last stop was the dining hall — straight out of “Hogwarts”.

It was great to see these interesting projects and the vast number of construction cranes in the sky.  It’s reported that downtown Los Angeles is undergoing its greatest development boom since the 1920s, and now has more cultural institutions than Manhattan!  There is a lot to see in downtown with historic theaters, new restaurants, hotels, towers, museums and activities.  Plan a visit or join us for next year’s TOD Tour!

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