Gentrification is sweeping the nation. From the industrial revolution ghost towns of Detroit to hurricane addled hoods in New Orleans, hip young trendsetters are moving in and revamping areas where crime rates are high and the rent is rock bottom. One place that is experiencing the transformation as we speak is Downtown Los Angeles.
City Councilmember José Huizar is responsible for spearheading the Bringing Back Broadway campaign, an effort to revitalize the once thriving, now deserted and defunct theater district in Downtown Los Angeles. In the 30’s and 40’s the Broadway Theater District located between Olympic Boulevard and Second Street was a seething hotbed of who’s who in Hollywood. It was (and still technically is, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy) the largest cluster of such theaters in the world, and the first theater district recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. But as LA expanded and the stars took their money to the beaches and hills, the theater district became home to gangbangers, homeless people and drug addicts, although it does maintain a vibrant community of Latinos who enjoy trade at the inexpensive shops that line the streets.
Bringing Back Broadway has big plans to revitalize the theater district including adding a street car, improving infrastructure, and one project that has already taken effect, relighting the neon signage on historic buildings. $750,000 has been granted to 13 buildings to relight and improve the facades. While some may argue that it seems a waste of energy to light signs on empty buildings, there is no arguing against the vastly improved look and feel of a glitzy neon street versus a dark and abandoned one. Plus, the light makes the streets much safer and more inviting to pedestrians and potential consumers. Since the launch of BBB, the district has seen mass improvements including lower crime rates and a flood of high-end retailers moving into the vacant spaces. As much as BBB would like to take credit for the economy surge, it seems there may be an underlying force to the recent retail explosion.
This month saw the opening of the hot new Ace Hotel which moved into the old United Artists theater building on Broadway and restored it to reflect its former glory. Now it is once again home to the hustle and bustle of glamour and big business. Although it seems natural that a hotel of this magnitude would bring some activity to the area, there has been an unnaturally paced rate of growth since the hotel opened its doors. As it turns out, the Ace is the centerpiece to a grand master plan of revitalization from real estate developer Tungsten Properties.
“Organic development doesn’t happen that quickly,” says Jonathan Schley, the director of retail development at Tungsten. In the past 18 months, Schley convinced nine new retailers to open on two square blocks surrounding the Ace Hotel at Ninth and Broadway. “Development comes in waves, and usually it’s residential first, then retail follows. We do it differently.” Ace has developed a reputation as the impetus to a hipness overhaul in defunct areas, successfully employing the same strategy in NYC along with six other cities.
Regardless of who gets the credit, Downtown LA is on the fast track to revival. Of course, this brings with it concerns from the current retailers and tenants in the area as rent has nearly doubled in the past few months, but such is the curse of gentrification. There is no easy answer; property values are going to be affected, but the crime rate is declining, and people feel safer on the streets. Though some hardships may fall upon current residents, joint efforts of the private and public sectors are poised to make the Broadway theater district the “walkable” downtown area that has been lacking in modern day LA.