Almost a century ago, subway riders arriving in and leaving Downtown Los Angeles used an underground rail station at the southwest corner of Fourth and Hill street. As of recently, there’s now a plan to bring people back to the covert territory, although the old red trains are no longer part of it, not surprisingly, shopping is.
Cleveland-based developer Forest City is embarking on an ambitious plan to turn the lower levels of the Subway Terminal Building in Downtown Los Angeles, into a compelling retail and creative office complex. It would repurpose and restructure 130,000 square feet of space on the ground floor and two underground levels of the building (north of Pershing Square.)
The developer turned the portion above the ground of the building into the 277-apartment Metro 417 Lofts back in 2005. With a new vision in mind, Frank Frallicciardi, director of development for Forest City Residential West, said they are in the current process of bringing the 91-year-old building up to fire and safety standards, but are waiting on some major restoration work until tenants are properly secured. Brokerage firm JLL has been hired to market the space.
Forest City originally planned to develop the lower levels after finishing Metro 417. Unfortunately, the recession set back the idea a few years.
Now that the market has recovered, developers and retailers are trying to get ahold of any space possible in Downtown Los Angeles. About two years ago, Forest City began looking at revitalizing this intriguing retail and office vision for Downtown Los Angeles.
LA’s Old Red Car Memories
The Subway Terminal Building, designed by the architectural firm Schultze and Weaver, opened in 1925 as one of the central hubs for the Red Car subway system, and funneled riders into and out of the heart of Downtown. After the Red Car system died out, a section of the 12-story building’s underground space served as offices for the Veterans Administration. Sense then, It has been vacant for decades.
The 40,000-square-foot ground floor has an Art Deco feel, with elaborately carved columns and 18-foot-high copper ceilings. There’s also two big skylights that are currently covered. Forest City plans to uncover them and create an open market of vendors surrounded by office space and larger eateries.
The first underground level, where travelers once passed through turnstiles, is about 40,000 square feet and has eight-foot ceilings. Frallicciardi said he expects it will serve as office space for one or two tenants, potentially for a Los Angeles Architectural Design firm(s).
The lowest level has 20-foot ceilings and about 45,000 square feet of space. Frallicciardi expects it would hold up to three tenants, and said a gym might be a fit. The old train tunnel is at one end of the floor, though it is owned by the city and closed off.
The project comes as the Downtown retail scene is exploding, with clusters of stores in places such as Broadway, the revitalized Bloc and FIGat7th complexes, and the One Santa Fe project in the Arts District. More retail would arrive in The Grand on Grand Avenue, the 1.1 million-square-foot Broadway Trade Center at Eighth Street and Broadway,and At Mateo, also in the Arts District.
One aspect of Forest City’s project goes away from the traditional aspect of life in Los Angeles: the underground component. The city’s temperate weather gravitates people outdoors, and while there is subterranean shopping at Fifth and Flower streets, another largely underground retail location, the Los Angeles Mall, has underperformed for decades.
Weiss said Downtown has a history of activating smaller basement spaces, such as the bar the Edison in the Higgins Building. He said the shopping center at Fifth and Flower draws large crowds during the lunch rush. With the right tenants, he said, the Subway Terminal Building could succeed.
Cornwell of JLL is even more assertive and confident. She said that the overall package of the project’s size, the likely mix of tenants and the location will bring in people.
Though work is early, Frallicciardi said he hopes to have people starting improvements by the end of the year.
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