DOWN­TOWN’S OF­FICE WARS

High-rise land­lords re­spond to the retro-cool brick build­ings that are lur­ing L.A. ten­ants

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Roger Vin­cent

When a group of prom­i­nent Los An­ge­les trial at­tor­neys started its own firm in Jan­uary, it shunned the sleek of­fice sky­scrapers that typ­i­cally house blue-chip firms. Hue­ston Hen­ni­gan in­stead set up shop in the cen­tury-old PacMu­tual of­fice com­plex down­town, a stone ed­i­fice hous­ing In­ter­net start-ups, fash­ion firms and other cre­ative types where rents are hit­ting $4 a foot, about dou­ble that of some big tow­ers.

“We looked at all the tall, square build­ings where ev­ery other law firm is,” said Moez Kaba, a part­ner at Hue­ston Hen­ni­gan. “Then we fell in love with PacMu­tual.”

The move il­lus­trates the chal­lenges faced by the mod­ern high-rises that dom­i­nate the L.A. sky­line but no longer com­mand the of­fice mar­ket. Own­ers of the big build­ings are re­spond­ing to the “cre­ative of­fice” wave with a cam­paign in­tended to prove they are not stuck in the hi­er­ar­chi­cal cube-farm mo­tif of the 1990s.

The largest land­lord of Class A of­fices down­town, Brook­field Of­fice Prop­er­ties Inc., is plan­ning to over­haul the ground floors of at least two of its seven down­town build­ings, pro­vid­ing eas­ier ac­cess to art in­stal­la­tions and cul­tural events such as con­certs in­tended to ap­peal to young work­ers, said Bert Dez­zutti, head of the Western re­gion for the New York com­pany.

The com­pany also had lead­ing ar­chi­tects deck out six of­fice suites to show­case what can be done to make build­ings that were the pride of the pre-In­ter­net era cut­ting-edge again.

Although of­fice-tower

land­lords want to at­tract the kind of fast-grow­ing tech, me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment firms that have clus­tered on the West­side, Dez­zutti said the big build­ings also need up­dates to re­tain their ac­coun­tants, lawyers and bankers — who are now de­mand­ing cre­ative spa­ces, too The core ten­ancy of down­town L.A. is and will re­main the pro­fes­sional ser­vices in­dus­tries,” he said.

Old is new again

The tow­ers’ com­pe­ti­tion is the wave of re­habbed brick and stone build­ings — once out­dated, now retro cool. The new home of Hue­ston Hen­ni­gan, the former head­quar­ters of Pacific Mu­tual Life In­sur­ance Co., dates to 1908 and strug­gled in the 1980s and 1990s to com­pete with the wave of fancy high­rises built down­town.

Among its big­gest ten­ants is thriv­ing on­line cloth­ing re­tailer Nasty Gal, a pur­veyor of racy fash­ions for young women. A gen­er­a­tion ago, the pres­ence of such non­cor­po­rate ten­ants would have been Kryp­tonite to law firms out to es­tab­lish cred­i­bil­ity with L.A.’s busi­ness elite.

Now, the ar­chi­tec­ture of re­spectabil­ity is chang­ing fast. Car­pet, bright lights and cu­bi­cles are giv­ing way to pol­ished con­crete f loors, ex­posed brick walls and in­di­rect light­ing. In­di­vid­ual of­fices are out, and shared spa­ces, with com­fort­able fur­ni­ture, are in. Peo­ple may not even have as­signed desks, work­ing each day where they choose.

At­tor­ney Kaba said he likes the “en­ergy” he feels as a neigh­bor to young tech and fash­ion firms. He’s con­fi­dent his Ivy League col­leagues and the young at­tor­neys they aim to re­cruit will feel the same way.

“They are hard-charg­ing, re­ally pas­sion­ate lawyers who work long hours,” he said “We want to cre­ate a space where they feel good com­ing in to work — and not work in a bub­ble.”

Empty off ices

The shift in work­place tastes comes as down­town it­self is in the midst of a dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion. For­merly a col­lec­tion of pri­vate of­fice and govern­ment build­ings — sur­rounded by blight — down­town has been trans­formed into a sprawl­ing 24-hour ur­ban neigh­bor­hood with thou­sands of pros­per­ous res­i­dents pay­ing high rents.

New res­i­dences, stores and restau­rants are be­ing cre­ated all over down­town, bring­ing pedes­tri­ans at all hours and a new sense of com­mu­nity.

Shift­ing per­cep­tions of of­fice chic pose steep chal­lenges for high-rise land­lords in­clud­ing Brook­field, CIM Group and OUE Lim­ited — the own­ers of mil­lions of square feet of down­town space de­signed as plush sanc­tu­ar­ies for but­ton-down busi­nesses. How to make their build­ings less stilted and iso­lated?

About 25% of the of­fice space on Bunker Hill, where sev­eral tow­ers are clus­tered, is empty. That com­pares with 18% in the ad­ja­cent flats of the fi­nan­cial district, ac­cord­ing to bro­ker­age Cush­man & Wake­field. Bunker Hill land­lords, how­ever, seem con­fi­dent that down­town’s resur­gence will spread up­hill, and they gen­er­ally con­tinue to ask for higher rents than are found in the fi­nan­cial district.

At Brook­field’s Gas Co. Tower and Wells Fargo Cen­ter, the ar­chi­tects have com­pleted the hip new spa­ces the land­lord or­dered up as mod­els. Each is de­signed to con­vince prospec­tive ten­ants that they can get the ben­e­fits of an open plan and cre­ative of­fice in­side a tra­di­tional cor­po­rate-style tower.

In one suite, meant for an en­ter­tain­ment law firm, pod-like tents serve as meet­ing rooms and an invit­ing nook for re­lax­ation can be reached by lad­der. In of­fices cre­ated for a fash­ion me­dia firm, dra­matic printed wall cov­er­ings of­fer a coun­ter­point to a vast mu­ral by artist Frank Stella vis­i­ble through the north win­dows. So­cial spa­ces

One of the over­hauled of­fices, de­signed with a law firm in mind, in­tends to lure young work­ers who crave so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, said ar­chi­tect Tim Ga­jew­ski, design di­rec­tor at Wol­cott Ar­chi­tec­ture In­te­ri­ors.

“When some­one can work re­motely with a hand­held de­vice at Star­bucks or at home, why go to the of­fice in the first place?” he said. “We cre­ated a bet­ter porch light to at­tract the moths.”

With the lines be­tween home and work grow­ing blurred, Ga­jew­ski’s cre­ated a homey of­fice space with res­i­den­tial-style fur­ni­ture, sub­dued light­ing and pods for meet­ings or solo work — in the shape of Chi­nese lanterns. A “quiet” room could be used for yoga or em­ployee train­ing.

The U.S. Bank Tower — the tallest build­ing in the West at 72 sto­ries, owned by OUE — is also un­der­go­ing a ma­jor ren­o­va­tion, at the cost of about $50 mil­lion, which in­cludes adding a sky-high restau­rant and an ob­ser­va­tion deck to be com­pleted by the end of the year.

At street level, the lobby will change from staid to sparkly with the in­stal­la­tion of one of the big­gest LED walls in the coun­try, es­sen­tially an enor­mous 3-D tele­vi­sion screen that will project col­or­ful, ever-chang­ing art dis­plays.

Down­town mi­gra­tion?

Dez­zutti pre­dicts that the tech and en­ter­tain­ment types who have clus­tered in Santa Mon­ica, Playa Vista and Hol­ly­wood will even­tu­ally make their way to down­town tow­ers. It’s al­ready hap­pened in other cities in­clud­ing Lower Man­hat­tan, Seat­tle and San Fran­cisco.

Down­towns have the trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture, high-speed In­ter­net fiber con­nec­tions, and bars and restau­rants that are harder to come by in other neigh­bor­hoods.

The tall build­ings will re­main a tough sell for some firms, how­ever. When down­town tech com­pany Na­tion-Builder, which cre­ates tools for on­line com­mu­ni­ties, de­cided to ex­pand last year, it landed in brick-walled space in the 1920s land­mark Mil­len­nium Bilt­more Ho­tel.

Why not lo­cate in a con­ven­tional sky­scraper?

“I don’t think that ever crossed our minds,” said Jusleen Sodi­wal, se­nior strate­gist for Na­tion-Builder. “The kinds of com­pa­nies that are at­tracted to real es­tate like that haven’t yet seen the light.” Lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion

For ar­chi­tect Doug Hanson, the dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing in a sky­scraper or be­ing in a so-called cre­ative build­ing is less im­por­tant than the neigh­bor­hood. His firm, Hanson LA, rented of­fices half­way up U.S. Bank Tower in 2005 sim­ply be­cause it was avail­able and af­ford­able.

In 2010, as the down­town re­vival took hold, he moved into a 1920s of­fice build­ing on Spring Street, last used for gar­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing. The build­ing was so “cre­ative” that it didn’t have heat­ing or air con­di­tion­ing, but an ur­ban re­nais­sance was go­ing on out­side their front door.

Now Spring Street is get­ting hot, his build­ing has been ren­o­vated — and rents are ris­ing to match.

So Hanson may move yet again. He’s con­sid­er­ing a high-rise in the fi­nan­cial district.

“It’s re­ally about the neigh­bor­hood on the street and the neigh­bors in the build­ing,” he said. “We can do what­ever we want with the space.”

Ir­fan Khan

IN THE GAS CO. TOWER, Rot­tet Stu­dio cre­ated a col­lab­o­ra­tive workspace. Tra­di­tional build­ings seek to re­tain their core ten­ancy of ac­coun­tants, lawyers and bankers who are now de­mand­ing cre­ative spa­ces.

Jay L. Clen­denin

A MOD­ERN SPACE is cre­ated around an orig­i­nal con­crete pil­lar at the PacMu­tual build­ing.

Jay L. Clen­denin

IN­SIDE THE LEAS­ING OF­FICE of Ris­ing Realty at the PacMu­tual build­ing.

Pho­tos by Ir­fan Khan

WOL­COTT AR­CHI­TEC­TURE IN­TE­RI­ORS de­signed a homey space to en­cour­age young em­ploy­ees to come to the of­fice in­stead of work­ing from else­where.

A FRANK STELLA MU­RAL is vis­i­ble from a work sta­tion at the Gas Co. Tower model of­fice suite for a fash­ion me­dia firm. It was de­signed by Rot­tet Stu­dio.

PODS IN THE SHAPE of Chi­nese lanterns — for meet­ings or solo work — were cre­ated for a law firm in the Gas Co. Tower model of­fice suite.

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