City Market Social House

The sprouts have begun to shoot up at an ambitious project aimed at breathing new life into the downtown Los Angeles Fashion District.

City Market South is 2.5 acres of the 10-acre City Market site that could help to reshape an area currently dominated by wholesale showrooms across men’s, women’s and children’s apparel and accessories, along with the flower markets. The project, upon completion, seeks to add more restaurants, residents and diversity of industries operating out of the district.

“It’s really a catalytic project for the neighborhood, even just the first phase of it,” said Rena Masten Leddy, executive director of the L.A. Fashion District Business Improvement District. “It is, we believe, going to change the dynamics of what goes on in that part of the neighborhood. We’re already a center of fashion and commerce and design, but I think it’s bringing another aspect of the creative community as well as bringing a nighttime component.”

The overall City Market project is expected to total 945 residential units, 210 hotel rooms, 294,641 square feet of office space and 224,862 square feet of retail. The project’s first phase, City Market South, is 98 percent leased with 10 tenants. Five of those businesses are up and running with the remainder undergoing tenant improvement work to be completed as early as the end of the year.

Tenants currently open include Cognoscenti Coffee and Steve Samson’s Rossoblu restaurant, along with Love Stitch’s 6,000-square-foot showroom. A cocktail bar by Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix is expected to open by September with Slanted Door set to unveil its first outpost outside of San Francisco at City Market South early next year. There are also the offices for a movie studio launched by brothers Anthony and Joseph Russo — directors of films such as “Captain America” and “Avengers: Infinity War”— along with a 20,000-square-foot event space operated by Vox Productions that could be used for fashion and red carpet events.

As for the direction additional retail will take across the broader project, it’s too early to tell.

“There’s just really no way to know at this stage,” said Mark Levy, president of City Market South and cofounder of Los Angeles-based developer Lena Group Inc. “My guess is it’ll be led by residential where there would be ground floor retail, but it will be more in terms of serving the residential versus necessarily fashion retail. We did try and really want to integrate being in the Fashion District.”

Kevin Napoli, developer and partner of Lena Group (which gets its name from the first two letters of Levy and Napoli), pointed out any retail going into the project should be destination worthy.

“To do retail for the sake of retail in this location wouldn’t benefit the retailers or us and we focused on more of the food and beverage side,” Napoli said. “Where we have done fashion retail — and we would still absolutely — but it would have to be something more along the lines of a really special company or in the case of Love Stitch where it’s actually their showroom space.”

Napoli added the project’s occupancy speaks to its success, particularly in comparison to other downtown developments.

“We did not use traditional methods for leasing,” Napoli said. “We did everything in-house, word of mouth and collaboratively.”

Make no mistake, the site will take time to develop over perhaps decades, running opposite to the relatively rapid trajectory of the Arts District that is now being flooded with new galleries, boutiques and larger names — such as Shinola, 3.1 Phillip Lim and Dover Street Market.

“The Arts District, really, it started with a lot of empty buildings and not a lot of foot traffic,” Levy said. “So it started with somewhat of a blank slate and that allowed it to change very rapidly, a lot of people would say for the better. Some people would say there’s too much building. The difference with the Fashion District is that there’s still an existing base of garment wholesale tenants and others that are here on more of a 9-to-5 basis so the transformation will take more time.”

If what City Market South is already doing is any indication, the transformation is indeed already underway.

“What this does is bring a 24/7 vibe to that neighborhood,” Masten Leddy said. “We’re already seeing some changes in the way that neighborhood works. With the movie studio and architecture firm, it adds to the workforce that’s there. With the second phase, I can’t even begin to imagine what will happen. It’s really creating a whole new center.”

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