November 24, 2001 - From the November, 2001 issue

Urban Partners Win Rights To Two Important Developments: L.A.'s Urban Core The Winner

The mark Ira Yellin and Dan Rosenfeld have left on Downtown cannot be measured by the number of projects they have worked on, but rather in the profound love that they have nurtured in a generation of residents who now live, work, and play in our urban core. In hopes of continuing that legacy, Urban Partners--their year-old development company--was recently selected as developer for both the Caltrans Headquarters and the L.A. County Courthouse. TPR was pleased to sit down with them in hopes of gaining insight into these projects and their meaning for the continuing redevelopment of the core.


Dan Rosenfeld

Urban Partners was recently selected as the developer for two very significant Downtown Los Angeles projects-the Caltrans Downtown headquarters and the L.A. County Hall of Justice. Please give us a sense of the scale of these projects as well as their significance for L.A. and Downtown?

Ira Yellin

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The Hall of Justice renovation and reopening and the new Caltrans Headquarters are two major commitments by the public sector to the continued renewal of downtown Los Angeles.

The Hall of Justice project brings back to life one of the city's great classical buildings, abandoned since the 1994 earthquake, just a block away from the new Cathedral. The Hall of Justice project is a total remodel, renewal and restoration of the classical L.A. County Court House. It will cost approximately $123 million and will lead to approximately 425,000 square feet of new office space for the Sheriff's Department and other county tenants. The Caltrans building represents a brand new facility in Downtown; it will occupy a currently bare city block, across from City Hall, and east of the Times, with a major piece of architecture by one of the world's leading architects. It will cost approximately $171 million and represents the first major project to come out of the Governor's recently established design excellence program. We have to be especially thankful to the Governor and his cabinet secretaries for their commitment to architectural and environmental excellence in the development of new state office facilities. This program could set a development standard for all sectors of government.

These two projects represent major achievements in the further realization of the Ten Minute Diamond Plan for the Civic Center. For Urban Partners, of course, these projects reflect our continued interest in and commitment to the continued evolution and renewal of Downtown, and we are honored to be chosen for this work.

Dan Rosenfeld

These buildings are intriguing because they focus on issues fundamental to the City of Los Angeles-justice and transportation. Creating facilities to address those issues gives government the opportunity to make a statement about where Los Angeles is headed in the next several decades.

Dan, as the former asset manager for the city and a contributor to the Ten-Minute Diamond vision for Downtown, how do these two projects conform to the intended civic vision?

Dan Rosenfeld

The Ten-Minute Diamond Plan has two essential aspects: 1) To encourage the location of government buildings in the Civic Center, within walking distance of each other; and 2) To encourage cooperation among government agencies in solving their real estate needs. These buildings conform with both goals.

In the case of the Caltrans project, the City's Dept. of Transportation will actually co-locate in the building with the State Transportation staff.

Additionally, the current Caltrans site will transfer to City ownership, offering a chance to develop a Civic Square, creating a true focal space in the heart of Los Angeles.

Regarding the Caltrans building. TPR has carried a number of interviews with Sec. Aileen Adams re: her efforts to move the State to adopt a sustainable building mandate for all state buildings. How are the State's healthy, energy efficient building priorities being integrated into the Caltrans project?

Ira Yellin

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Sustainability, or environmental sensitivity, as well as Design Excellence were among the primary criteria established by the Davis Administration in the bid package; throughout the process, it was made clear by all involved that these were very real goals that must be met. While many of the sustainability issues are to be resolved through the final design process, issues such as natural daylight and the nature and quality of air flow in office areas, a reduced number of elevator stops in the building, natural vegetation as part of an overall cooling concept, are likely to be part of the final package.

Dan Rosenfeld

We're also exploring options like thermal storage and photovoltaic cells.

Who will implement your team's promises both with respect to design and sustainability? Who are the complementary players on your development team?

Ira Yellin

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It all starts with our architectural team, Thom Mayne and the Morphosis office in Santa Monica.

Thom has a strong commitment and an established track record of designing highly sustainable buildings; he and his office are committed as architectural professionals to this goal.

From there, it falls on our partner, Clark Construction Group, to carry the load in ensuring that the building is constructed not only within budget and timeline, but that it meets the high standards established by the State and incorporated in the design. Clark's commitment to and proven ability to meet such goals was most recently reflected in their successful completion of the major renovation of Los Angeles City Hall.

Dan Rosenfeld

It's important to note that these are design-build projects. And in the case of the Hall of Justice, it's a design-build-finance project. Clark is the general contractor for both buildings. For the Caltrans building, Gruen is the executive architect; for the Hall of Justice, Nadel is the architect and Salomon Smith Barney will underwrite the financing. Jones Lang LaSalle will be property manager.

Regarding the Hall of Justice renovation, could you elaborate on the financial feasibility of this project? Many have argued that it's simply not economically feasible to do what is being sought. Obviously you've found a way. Please elaborate on how?

Dan Rosenfeld

We learned a lot from the Junipero Serra State Office Building where the total cost of rehab was less than half what it would have cost to build new. That opened a lot of people's eyes to the financial feasibility of reusing existing buildings. These older buildings are usually very well constructed, have gorgeous ornamental finishes and require minimal structural upgrades. The Hall of Justice renovation is extremely reasonable compared to other alternatives which the County reviewed.

Design-build-finance allows a private sector development entity to issue tax-exempt financing secured by a long term lease, and deliver a "turnkey" product for the client.

And how does the ability to utilize such funding mechanisms translate into new and more realistic development opportunities for the urban fabric of Downtown Los Angeles?

Ira Yellin

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One of the wonderful realities of Disney Hall, the Cathedral, the Hall of Justice and the Caltrans Headquarters is that we are watching the fabric of a new Civic Center emerge with design and architectural excellence among the underlying criteria. This is a new reality in Los Angeles and suggests real possibilities for the rebuilding of Parker Center, a new County Hall of Administration and a new Superior Court Building.

Ah, the optimism of developers like Urban Partners is invigorating. But we know that urban renewal is not without serious obstacles. Is it simply a lack of investment by public agencies, the County, City, State or School District that retards more revitalization? Or is it something else that explains why much of downtown remains available for development?

Ira Yellin

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There are always financial and other obstacles, some very legitimate. But what projects of this nature require most of all is, simply, leadership: a commitment at the highest political level that public dollars will be spent wisely and in a manner that makes a lasting contribution to the civic community.

Just as the State has recognized that there need be a commitment to design and environmental excellence so must the City and County of Los Angeles realize that, as we progress with new public buildings, we conceive them to be lasting investments, that live beyond any one generation, and that help define the nature and quality of our democracy and thus of a civil society.

What we've also learned in recent years, Bilbao being the most known example, is that architectural excellence has a direct impact on the economic well being of a community. It isn't ephemeral. It isn't superfluous. There is a direct relationship. That's a key to these two projects. And that's the message that must be forwarded.

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© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.