By  on February 2, 2005

LOS ANGELES — The downtown of this city, which until five years ago had been largely overlooked amid ever-growing suburban sprawl, appears poised for major retail and residential growth, according to a new study.

The report is the first to gather demographic information on new downtown businesses and residents. It was prepared for the Los Angeles Downtown Center Business Improvement District by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. The DCBID has been pushing retailers, developers and businesses to step up efforts to revitalize downtown.

“We wanted a scientific verification for what we knew was taking place,” said Carol Schatz, president and chief executive officer of the DCBID. “The numbers prove that the boom has not only started, but with great gusto.”

The survey is particularly important because the 2000 Census figures do not account for the businesses and residents that have moved downtown in the past five years, Schatz said.

The information was collected through a questionnaire distributed in downtown, which was defined as the 65-block radius bordered by the 101 freeway to the north, the Los Angeles River on the east, the 10 freeway to the south and the 110 freeway to the west. A total of 2,128 survey forms were distributed and the response rate was 17 percent.

The report found that median household income was about $90,000, a figure that the DCBID hopes will entice national and local businesses and developers to support downtown growth. A total of 43.1 percent of the households had incomes of $100,000 or more, 7.8 percent at $200,000 and above. Close to half the residents surveyed said they were single, white males between the ages of 23 and 34.

The burgeoning entertainment sector already includes the Staples Center, home to the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall and hip eateries and nightspots such as Cicada, the Standard Hotel and the Golden Gopher. 

Schatz credited the Adaptive Re-use Ordinance passed in 1999 as the catalyst for the housing boom, which officials hope will lead to an influx of retailing. The measure effectively removed some planning and zoning requirements, making it less costly for developers to convert old office buildings. Since 1999, there have been 4,000 housing units built. Another 6,000 are in the pipeline over the next two years.“We knew that the crux of revitalization had to be housing, housing, housing,” Schatz said. “And residential development will drive the retail market.”

First on the list of businesses the DCBID hopes to court are grocery stores, particularly specialty chains such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Next are more restaurants and entertainment venues. They hope apparel stores will follow.

But the DCBID doesn’t want just familiar retail standards.

“Will there be a Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy?” said Hal Bastian, vice president and director of economic development for the DCBID. “Though we would love that, we’re most interested in nightlife tenants, restaurants and specialty, independent retailers, because you can get a Gap in any market.”

The LAEDC’s Jack Kyser agreed.  “We’re up to our knees in Gaps, and Banana Republics, so we need something that’s a little unusual but appeals to this demographic as well as the office workers in the area,” he said. “To retailers I say, ‘don’t look at the Census, look at this survey and make your plans.’”

The DCBID acknowledges that dealing with crime in the area, as well as homelessness, will pose challenges. Still, the group said crime may be more an issue of perception. The Los Angeles Police Department reported that the crime rate decreased 22 percent from 2003 to 2004.

On homelessness, Schatz said, “We will look at…more beds for the people who want them and need them. But people moving to downtown know that they will see more panhandlers and street people than [if they were living in] the West Valley.”

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