Developers Plan a $1B L.A. Condo Complex

76-story facility would be tallest residential building west of Chicago


Plans for a $1-billion high-rise condominium complex overlooking Pershing Square park in downtown Los Angeles were unveiled Monday by developers who expect to build the tallest residential building west of Chicago.

At 76 stories, the taller of two planned towers would dramatically alter the city's skyline and rival in height the U.S. Bank office skyscraper. The project, named Park Fifth, also calls for a 14-story five-star hotel. It will front on the park, as does the historic Biltmore Hotel catty-cornered to the planned development.

The project joins several other massive downtown developments planned from Staples Center to Bunker Hill. The two blue-green glass condo towers would rise above the hotel, with the shorter tower reaching 43 stories.

"This is the first time in 30 years that all the stars have lined up" enough to start building Park Fifth, said Los Angeles developer David Houk, who began acquiring the land in the 1970s.

Houk, 61, has been a well-known downtown figure for the ensuing decades as he assembled the Park Fifth site and restored the historic Title Guarantee Building next door. He also restored the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena and owned it for many years.

The project already has its supporters and doubters.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who favors the construction of Park Fifth, says the building will be a boost for downtown.

"It has the great potential of becoming this iconic structure that is high-profile enough" to redefine the city's skyline, she said, and the location is appropriate for dense development.

"It's right smack dab in the midst of places where people work -- the Jewelry Mart, central business district and Bunker Hill," she said. "There's a lot of jobs within a 15-minute walk."

The project would stand at the northeast corner of 5th and Olive streets on the site of the Philharmonic Auditorium, which was razed in the 1980s to make way for an office and hotel complex that was never built. The demand for offices collapsed in the early 1990s, and downtown has been burdened by an oversupply ever since.

But a burst of residential development in recent years has added thousands of apartments and condominiums downtown, and billions of dollars' worth of entertainment, shopping and hotel construction is underway or scheduled to start this year. After decades of blacklisting the area, lenders are again making loans for downtown developments.

Houk says he now has committed financial partners and most of the required development permits and has begun work on a new environmental impact report. Construction could start as soon as early 2008, and the smaller tower including the hotel could be open by 2010, he said.

The property would have six floors of underground parking to serve residents and hotel guests.

The project is drawing its doubters from people who wonder whether there is a market for another huge housing complex downtown.

Adding downtown housing is a risk, market observers said. "There is a huge supply that far exceeds demand" at the moment, said real estate broker Stephen May of Downtown Residential Real Estate, who estimates that more than 400 units are for sale.

Prices are holding level, he said, but may come down in future months as more new units hit the market and create competition.

"People wonder if this is the right time" to announce a large housing development, said economist Jack Kyser of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "Downtown is overbuilt and some other projects are grinding to a halt."

But the housing market could be thriving again by 2010, he said, and the Park Fifth gamble could pay off. A project of that size -- 732 condos and 218 hotel rooms -- "would pull the center of gravity downtown a little farther to the east" and boost the appeal of the blocks around long-suffering Pershing Square, Kyser said.

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