Re­mak­ing old Reg­is­ter site into ‘mini ur­ban city’

De­vel­oper en­vi­sions a 20-acre com­plex with O.C.’s tallest build­ings.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By An­drew Khouri

Two years ago, de­vel­oper Mike Har­rah joined a bid to pur­chase the Or­ange County Reg­is­ter out of bank­ruptcy.

The ef­fort ul­ti­mately failed. But the flam­boy­ant lo­cal con­struc­tion mag­nate with a ZZ Top beard still ac­quired the Reg­is­ter’s Santa Ana real es­tate, cur­rently va­cant af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion de­camped to Ana­heim this spring.

With the Reg­is­ter gone, Har­rah is now em­bark­ing on an am­bi­tious $1-bil­lion plan for the 20-acre Grand Av­enue site, propos­ing to build Or­ange County’s tallest build­ings, more than 1,000 res­i­dences, a 171-room ho­tel, of­fices and re­tail shops.

In all, Har­rah’s Cari­bou In­dus­tries en­vi­sions a 2.3mil­lion-square-foot de­vel­op­ment known as 625IVE that serves as a gate­way to his­toric down­town Santa Ana, where hip restau­rants and shops are open­ing just a mile away. And he’s signed up prom­i­nent ar­chi­tec­ture firm Gensler to work on it.

Har­rah him­self has been cred­ited with help­ing kick­start the re­vi­tal­iza­tion early last decade af­ter he ac­quired build­ings in the district and filled them with art gal­leries, a per­form­ing arts cen­ter, restau­rants and more.

His new plan fea­tures high-rises, a mix­ture of apart­ments and con­dos, as well as a con­ver­sion of the print­ing plant into so-called cre­ative of­fices, pos­si­bly for tech com­pa­nies. Two tow­ers — with some mix of apart-

ments, a ho­tel, of­fices and re­tail — would stand at 493 feet, mak­ing them the tallest build­ings in the county.

There would also be smaller res­i­den­tial build­ings and a 20-story of­fice tower. The five-story, or­ange-col­ored Reg­is­ter head­quar­ters build­ing will re­main as of­fices, and in to­tal there will be nearly 44,000 square feet of shops.

“It will be a mini ur­ban city within it­self,” boasts Har­rah, de­scrib­ing the project as “the big­gest one in the his­tory of Or­ange County.”

That, of course, de­pends on how a sin­gle project is de­fined, as mul­ti­ple de­vel­op­ments in the county built out over decades are sig­nif­i­cantly larger, in­clud­ing the Irvine Spec­trum Cen­ter, where the Irvine Co. has more than 7 mil­lion square feet of of­fice space.

But Har­rah says he hopes to fin­ish 625IVE within five years, and he likens the project to an ur­ban re­de­vel­op­ment more akin to those go­ing up in down­town Los An­ge­les, rather than a typ­i­cal large Or­ange County de­vel­op­ment built on open space.

If Har­rah can con­struct 625IVE in such a short time frame, Lars Platt, se­nior man­ag­ing di­rec­tor for Cush­man & Wake­field’s Or­ange County of­fice, agreed it would be the largest of its type in the county.

But he doubts the project as pro­posed will be com­pleted.

Large mixed-use de­vel­op­ments in sought-af­ter Irvine, in­clud­ing the Spec­trum and Park Place, have taken decades to build, he noted. And Platt de­scribed the area sur­round­ing the Reg­is­ter site as sleepy and blighted.

“Un­like the area Mike is build­ing, the Spec­trum is sur­rounded by the most de­sired hous­ing ... in all of hous­ing of Or­ange County,” he said. “I would be very, very, very sur­prised if any prospec­tive con­struc­tion lender would se­ri­ously con­sider that re­de­vel­op­ment of the [Reg­is­ter] project.” Oth­ers are more bullish. Kurt Strasmann, se­nior man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of CBRE Group Inc.’s Or­ange County Re­gion, called the project mas­sive, but doable. He noted that the lo­cal econ­omy and apart­ment and of­fice mar­kets are hot. And un­like Platt, he called the lo­ca­tion de­sir­able for com­pa­nies, given its prox­im­ity to the 5 Free­way.

“It’s not an easy feat for any­one in any cir­cum­stance” to fi­nance such a large project, he said. “[But] can they do it? You bet.”

A ma­jor pitch Cari­bou is mak­ing is the op­por­tu­nity to have a cre­ative of­fice cam­pus near a down­town and pub­lic tran­sit.

A pedes­trian bridge, for ex­am­ple, is planned over Grand Av­enue, link­ing the de­vel­op­ment to the Santa Ana Re­gional Trans­porta­tion Cen­ter, where Am­trak and Metrolink trains stop, in ad­di­tion to buses.

The cen­ter is also a planned ter­mi­nus for the pro­posed OC Street­car that, if built, will con­nect Santa Ana and Gar­den Grove.

Care is be­ing taken to pre­serve the his­tory of the O.C. Reg­is­ter, in­clud­ing ex­plor­ing ways to keep por­tions of the print­ing press when that build­ing is re­de­vel­oped into of­fices, said Jim Young, an ar­chi­tect who is lead­ing the de­sign team for Gensler, which has de­signed the Me­trop­o­lis mega-de­vel­op­ment in down­town L.A. and the MLS soc­cer sta­dium un­der con­struc­tion in Ex­po­si­tion Park.

“The idea is to re­spect what is there,” Young said of the Reg­is­ter de­vel­op­ment. “There is so much his­tory with the O.C.R.”

Har­rah said the project will be built out in four phases, the last be­ing the twin 37-story tow­ers. He said the de­vel­op­ment will be fi­nanced through debt and eq­uity in­vestors, some of which have been lined up.

The old Reg­is­ter head­quar­ters build­ing at 625 Grand Ave. is al­ready avail­able for lease and Cari­bou is work­ing with the city on gain­ing needed ap­provals for the larger project, ac­cord­ing to Robert Duncan, se­nior de­vel­op­ment part­ner with Cari­bou.

Alma Flores, a spokes­woman with the city of Santa Ana, said Cari­bou hasn’t yet sub­mit­ted a de­vel­op­ment pro­posal and the project would need “at a min­i­mum” a zone change and gen­eral plan amend­ment.

Har­rah has made big boasts be­fore that have failed to ma­te­ri­al­ize.

For more than a decade, he has tried to build One Broadway Plaza, a 37-story of­fice tower less than two miles from the Reg­is­ter site. The planned 493-foot build­ing would be the same height as the tallest build­ings pro­posed for the Reg­is­ter site but a city ref­er­en­dum, law­suits and the re­ces­sion de­layed con­struc­tion.

Amid the eco­nomic re­cov­ery, Har­rah has given re­porters mul­ti­ple ground­break­ing dates, only to have them pass with no ac­tion.

Har­rah told The Times this week that he fi­nally broke ground two months ago and is con­struct­ing the build­ing’s foun­da­tion. And he said he is in ne­go­ti­a­tions with an un­named ten­ant who would take the en­tire build­ing, which he ex­pects will be com­pleted in about two and a half years.

Flores, the city spokes­woman, said the only per­mit­ted work for One Broadway Plaza so far is a par­tial foun­da­tion.

Har­rah first ac­quired land at the Reg­is­ter lo­ca­tion in 2014 when he pur­chased the pa­per’s head­quar­ters build­ing and leased it back to the strug­gling pa­per.

When Reg­is­ter owner Free­dom Com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­clared bank­ruptcy a year later, the com­pany’s chief ex­ec­u­tive and other in­sid­ers joined with Har­rah to pur­chase the com­pany. Their bid, and a com­pet­ing of­fer from the Los An­ge­les Times, lost out to Dig­i­tal First Me­dia, which also owns the Los An­ge­les Daily News and Daily Breeze in Tor­rance.

Dig­i­tal First then sold the rest of the Reg­is­ter land to Har­rah for a re­ported $34 mil­lion, and the news­pa­per moved to Ana­heim in April.

Strasmann of CBRE Group called Har­rah’s fiveyear time­line doable as long as the first phases lease well and there isn’t a re­ces­sion. If Har­rah suc­ceeds, the project would re­vi­tal­ize the sur­round­ing area.

“It’s a big win for ev­ery­one if this thing comes to­gether,” he said.


PLANS call for build­ing more than 1,000 res­i­dences, a 171-room ho­tel, of­fices and shops on the Santa Ana site. Above, an artist’s ren­der­ing of the 625IVE com­plex.


A REN­DER­ING of 625IVE, which de­vel­oper Mike Har­rah en­vi­sions as a 2.3-mil­lion-square-foot com­plex that serves as a gate­way to his­toric down­town Santa Ana, where hip eater­ies and shops are open­ing a mile away.

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