“Planting Seeds for Successful Growth: Developing Opportunities Through Community,” was the theme of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Los Angeles’ 17th annual Urban Marketplace conference and expo. The event took place in downtown Los Angeles on June 6th, 2019 at the Los Angeles Football Club Banc of California Stadium. The focus at Urban Marketplace was on emerging communities that are shaping Los Angeles-area development and the city’s future. The conference participants represented a cross-section of Los Angeles’ real estate movers and shakers, including developers, dealmakers, architects, leaders of nonprofit housing organizations, and LA city officials.
The two essential ingredients for developing vibrant communities are to “create neighborhood engagement prior to a development, and to ensure healthy support for that community after development,” according to Urban Marketplace Co-Chair Renee Barot. The ULI-LA motto is “Make a deal, make a difference,” and a series of expert roundtables focused on the nuts and bolts—social, financial, and logistical— of community development deals, with an emphasis on community values and engagement and their relation to land use and development.
Urban Marketplace 2019 opened with two expert panels. The first, “Planting Seeds,” addressed ways of building community, and featured Claire Fox, Executive Director, Los Angeles Food Policy Council; Kelly Boyer, President, Rose Community Capital; Shoneji Robison, Managing Partner/Co-Owner, Southern Girl Desserts; and Rudy Espinoza, Executive Director, LURN.
The second panel, “Developing Opportunity,” brought together investment and development advisor Larry Kosmont, Chairman and CEO of Kosmont Companies; Sondra Wegner, Managing Director, CIM Group; and Daryl Carter, Chairman and CEO, Avanath Capital Management.
They discussed commercial real estate development and other investments in often-overlooked communities. These investments help to grow the national economy, Kosmont said, citing “lower returns for broader impact.” They highlighted Opportunity Zones (OZs), created as part of the 2017 federal tax bill that allows the deferral or elimination of capital gains taxes on long-term (10-year) investment in economically distressed areas. “To create enhanced value means investing as a whole, not just real estate,” said Carter. “Long-term holding and management of properties means staying in low-income communities to help them, beyond 10 years.”
Kosmont challenged ULI and all of the conference attendees to better understand OZ’s with the aim of developing solutions to bridge the gap between the LA’s public agencies and the private sector investment and development. The impact of OZs, discussed in depth at a later roundtable on “Opportunity Zones – Equity or Displacement?” is controversial. They can be perceived as only benefiting developers and operators. Some observers contend that, even if the tax break attracts new investments in OZ areas, it doesn’t guarantee that they will ultimately benefit residents of low-income families. Such investment risks generating higher prices that displace low-income citizens and businesses instead of benefiting them. An alternative could be municipal government investment in housing, education, transportation, and other programs that help build infrastructure in low-income areas.
Urban Marketplace roundtables highlighted new development hot spots, such as “Ivy Station – Culver City’s Newest Destination,” a development by Lowe, AECOM-Canyon Partners, and Rockwood Capital, with LA architecture firm KFA as executive architect. Currently under construction, the $350 million landmark, mixed-use, multi-mobile transit hub adjacent to LA Metro Expo light rail station will offer a plaza for community gatherings and events, office space, residential units, a boutique hotel, and retail and restaurant amenities.
“Destination Crenshaw – 1.3 Miles of Art & Culture Celebrating Black LA,” featuring LA City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, focused on South LA’s vibrant Crenshaw Corridor, which is being transformed by several new developments stimulated by the coming of the new Metro light rail line along Crenshaw Boulevard that will connect the Expo Line with LAX.
Even one small project can have a real impact on an entire community. One discussion highlighted Steelcraft, the colorful and inviting Long Beach open-air urban eatery built of repurposed shipping containers from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The Steelcraft concept, already expanded to Garden Grove and Bellflower, creates gathering spaces that can help to form community and revitalize downtown Main Streets in LA County. The design team of Studio One Eleven shapes these developments into welcoming, community-retail gathering places for working-class neighborhoods.
Similarly, a presentation on how family owners transformed their corner liquor store in South LA’s Hyde Park, one of the oldest LA neighborhoods, into Hank’s Mini-Market, offering healthy choices and fresh produce to the grocery-underserved community. A roundtable on the “City of Bell – Connecting SE Communities to the LA River” highlighted the ongoing revitalization of the Los Angeles River in Bell, one of several cities along the LA River. In 2017, $100 million in funds from California Proposition 1 were allocated to restore the long-neglected river. In Bell, the river got a beautifying facelift that enhances its appeal to communities along its banks.
Following the panels, attendees participated in interactive roundtables on topics such as new housing legislation, affordable housing, the role of public housing in the affordable housing crisis, housing the homeless, and reducing barriers to urban infill in California. Critiques of government programs were also part of the discussions. It has been more than two years since LA voters approved Proposition HHH, a bond measure raising $1.2 billion to fund construction of homeless housing and service centers in LA, and the city has been slow to deliver housing. “Prop HHH – How Hard Can Spending $1B Dollars Be?” asked one roundtable. One project, the brand-new Irmas Family Campus located at LA Family Housing, opened just the week before Urban Marketplace took place. “LA Family Housing – The Campus” presented the new development that offers new permanent supportive housing, bridge housing, a state-of-the-art health center, and two regional service centers. “West LA Veterans Collective – Supportive Housing Community” discussed the proposed 490 units of housing for homeless veterans on the Veteran Administration’s West LA campus, delayed by a lawsuit but currently back on track to housing, mental health treatment and other assistance to at least 1,200 homeless and disabled veterans.
Groundbreaking innovations were part of the roundtable lineup. “HATCHspaces: Betting on Bioscience,” presented HATCHlabs, a partnership between LA Bioscience Hub and HATCHspaces that recently opened a multi-tenant wet lab facility, the first of its kind in Los Angeles, in El Sereno. The new incubator space is designed to support radical advancement in research and development of new science. Its labs will house research and testing with various types of chemicals and bioscience/lifescience work. “High-Rise Mass Timber – New Code Gamechanger” introduced mass timber, a new category of wood products that that solves problems of fireproofing, load-bearing, water resistance, sealing, seismic ratings, and more, enabling an alternate building technique for timber buildings higher than six stories.
Urban Marketplace 2019 was so broad-ranging that it defies any attempt to encapsulate all of the topics and learning opportunities of the half-day event. Read more about ULI-LA and its research, meetings and events at https://la.uli.org/.
By Nadene Gallagher, President, Gallagher PR and Marketing, www.gallagher-pr.com, and Brooke Lauter, Principal, Lauter Communications, LLC.