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Council Clears Path to Speed Up Development of Downtown L.A. ‘Historic’ Buildings

City officials unveiled guidelines Thursday aimed at transforming a large swath of empty historic buildings along Broadway in downtown Los Angeles into a bustling area with restaurants, art galleries, yoga studios and other businesses.

The “commercial reuse” guidelines are part of a pilot program that applies just to buildings along South Broadway, between First and 12th streets.
Officials said the guidelines should clarify the steps business owners will need to take to rehabilitate historical structures while meeting fire and safety regulations.

Under the program, working elevators will no longer need to be upgraded or replaced; art galleries, yoga studios, restaurants and similar businesses will be allowed in the upper floors of buildings; and fire safety standards will cater more to the needs of older buildings, while taking into account modern fire-fighting capabilities.

“Today, we are knocking the dust off of decades of layers of red tape and impossible and conflicting codes that have resulted in our historic buildings on Broadway sitting empty for far too long,” said City Councilman Jose Huizar, who made the announcement during an event Thursday at the Bradbury Building, an architectural landmark that was used in the dystopian, sci-fi movie “Blade Runner.”

Huizar said a similar “reuse” ordinance for historic, residential buildings in downtown Los Angeles resulted in a population boom, but commercial buildings have not been so quick to fill up.

About 1 million square feet of commercial space remains vacant or under-used in the Broadway area — where buildings often date back to the 19th century — partly because the process for restoring the older buildings for safe, commercial use has long proved a hassle, he said.

The guidelines, which took five years to develop, were met with excitement from architects who said they are looking forward to an influx of creative and professional offices in the area, as well as increased retail businesses.

“Creative office and hotel uses are a big part of the future for Broadway’s buildings, and these new guidelines pave the way for a much easier process than we had before,” said architect Karin Liljegren of Omgivning Architecture & Interior Design.

The guidelines take away much of the “uncertainty” around reusing old buildings and makes it “easier for developers and property owners to reactivate gorgeous historic buildings along this once great theater and shopping street,” Rocky Rockefeller, an architect and senior partner at Rockefeller Partners, said.