CB Richard Ellis' Downtown Development Group

Business Law

Is downtown Los Angeles finally headed towards the likes of New York or Chicago's bustling and vibrant urban environments?  With the recent boom of construction and real estate development going on, it appears that downtown LA will once again be a popular destination for Angelinos.

The real hints that the neighborhood is changing come in more subtle forms — such as the tours Derrick Moore has been giving around downtown recently. Moore, a senior associate in CB Richard Ellis' Urban Development Group, has been helping representatives from national chain stores such as Walgreen's and the Outback Steakhouse group — who have long shied away from downtown — search for properties in the area. He has wined and dined potential retailers at local hotspots — and found their reaction a distinct shift from even a few months ago, when most took a wait-and-see attitude toward the neighborhood.

Residents have moved in, with the population now at 30,000. Some of downtown's long-anticipated, large-scale projects — including a supermarket and a movie theater — are only months from opening. Questions about downtown's future have heightened with the recent cooling of Southern California's real estate market. But downtown so far doesn't appear to be suffering much, and there are growing signs that retail is actually strengthening.

"First and foremost," Moore said, "we have to figure out the parking issue in downtown. We have to make parking easy for all the folks we are expecting to attract … for a reasonable amount of money."

One key test for downtown will be the role that parking plays in its evolution. Several observers said it is hard to find inexpensive, easy parking in the district — and that could harm the push for an active street life in downtown.

One thing that the area is lacking is a grocery store.  People don't want to live somewhere where they have to drive for 30 minutes to the closest supermarket. After over 30 years without one, the arrival of Ralphs — which started downtown at 6th and Spring in the late 1800s but abandoned the district in 1950 — is seen by many as a sign that the district's fortunes have returned.

"I think that the Ralphs opening is going to be the adhesive to hold it all together," Moore said of the retail renaissance. "That's what's missing."

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