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Recasting the Figueroa Corridor

The Figueroa Corridor stretches from USC and Exposition Park, to the Los Angeles Convention Center, to downtown Los Angeles. An economic development plan is in the works and USC is a key player in the process.

THE FIGUEROA CORRIDOR – the thoroughfare that connects USC and Exposition Park to the Los Angeles Convention Center and downtown Los Angeles – could become one of the region’s foremost destinations, according to an economic development plan prepared for the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency.

Completed in January, the Figueroa Corridor Economic Development Strategy provides a blueprint for the transformation of Figueroa Street into an integrated stretch of thriving districts for cultural, educational, sports and entertainment activities, as well as restaurant, retail, financial, multimedia and other businesses.

For USC, realization of the Figueroa Corridor plan will mean enhancing the area next to the University Park Campus, making it more desirable for students, faculty and staff to spend leisure time there and better connecting the campus to vibrant destinations in downtown Los Angeles.

“Under President Sample’s leadership, it has been part of the university’s strategic plan to look beyond our borders – to embrace our adjacent neighborhoods and institutions, working together in ways that benefit us all,” said Thomas H. Moran, vice president for business affairs. “We’re walking hand in hand with our neighboring property owners and institutions in advocating this plan.”

The Figueroa Corridor study is aimed at improving the character and quality of the experience for both pedestrians and motorists who travel the corridor – a four-mile stretch along Figueroa and Flower streets, extending from Fifth Street south to Vernon Avenue.

The plan provides a strategy for “really bringing to life all the places along the corridor, as well as stimulating economic development on the properties that are either underdeveloped or currently vacant,” said Robert Harris, a professor of architecture who served as a consultant in drafting the plan.

The plan’s key priorities are to strengthen and integrate the corridor’s distinct districts. In addition, the plan calls for a new street design and landscape improvements to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment and an overall identity for the street. Specifically, the plan proposes widening sidewalks, planting trees, building a park-like median and landscaping the edges.

A few years ago, Caltrans widened Figueroa Street and designated it as a freeway alternate route during construction of the 110 transitway.

“Right now, it’s not that safe for pedestrians to cross, and if pedestrians can’t cross, then commercial activity will have a difficult time getting established,” said A. Bingham Cherrie, executive director of planning in the Office of Business Affairs.

Figueroa Street is now a commuter stretch, lined by a hodgepodge of fast-food restaurants with few other amenities. But the street provides a surprising number of prominent institutions and activity centers, the plan notes. These include, to the south: USC, the Shrine Auditorium and the Exposition Park museums, including the new California Science Center, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the Shammus family automobile dealerships. To the north are the soon-to-be-built Staples Center sports and entertainment venue, the Convention Center and the downtown financial district. In between are other important institutions, such as the Southern California Automobile Association, Los Angeles Trade Technical College, two hospitals and a number of beautiful churches.

Based on the number of employees, students and visitors in the corridor, the area can support considerably more retail outlets, restaurants and service-related businesses, according to the study. However, there is a lack of economic integration among the corridor’s districts. In addition, the corridor’s institutional or economic assets – such as USC, the Shrine, the Convention Center, Exposition Park and automobile dealerships – are considered single-purpose destinations. People may visit one of them, but rarely stay to go anyplace else.

“The study recommends the need for a few catalytic engines to get other activities going,” Cherrie said. For instance, Staples Arena, which will be home to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Kings, might be a catalyst for a Convention Center hotel, restaurants or shops.

Development priorities for the corridor’s districts, from north to south, are:

* The Financial District, between 5th and 9th streets. The plan proposes renovating the Seventh Street Marketplace and repositioning retail businesses and hotels to tie into the Downtown Events Center.

* The Downtown Events Center, between 9th Street and Venice Boulevard. With the Convention Center and planned Staples Arena, this district could support new entertainment, a hotel and retail projects.

* Downtown Services District, between Venice Boulevard and 23rd Street. The goal for this area, near the Annenberg Center’s EC2 high-tech business incubator, is to encourage development of multimedia businesses, new services and restaurants in converted warehouses and industrial buildings.

* Adams Center, between 23rd Street and Jefferson Boulevard. The area has a concentration of auto dealers, but also a number of historic buildings, such as Mount St. Mary’s College. Priorities are to encourage retail, restaurant or service business development, all supporting the adjacent student neighborhood.

* USC Place, between Jefferson and Exposition boulevards. This district, anchored by the university, the Shrine Auditorium and Felix Chevrolet, offers opportunities for new development. For instance, the block bounded by Figueroa, Jefferson, Flower and 35th Street could accommodate student, visitor and university services, or even a retail and movie theater complex.

* Exposition Park, from Exposition Boulevard to Vernon Avenue. For this regional events park, the major development opportunities are to build a new football stadium at the Coliseum and complete the Expo Park master plan improvements, as well as develop new retail investments.

The study also encourages existing institutions to “open themselves up” to the corridor by relocating facilities or developing new ones along Figueroa. At “USC Place,” for instance, the plan envisions that certain types of facilities – such as a bookstore, KUSC Radio, art galleries or even an arena or performing arts facility – could be located and oriented to the campus’s eastern boundary.

“In the domain of USC, the real need is to help the university better connect to the corridor, and therefore to downtown and all of the venues in between,” Harris said. The plan envisions improving the east-west walkways on campus to bring students, faculty and staff to the corridor.

“To the extent that this district comes to life, then USC as a campus will find itself in a thriving place,” he said.

A major step toward turning the Figueroa Corridor vision into reality began last year with the establishment of a Business Improvement District. The BID is a self-assessment district formed by 107 property owners in the Figueroa Corridor Partnership. The district will generate an annual $500,000 budget for street maintenance, security and marketing programs over the next five years. (A gala celebration, featuring the Trojan Marching Band, is planned Wednesday, March 18, at the Automobile Club of Southern California to launch the BID’s activities.)

Redeveloping the Figueroa Corridor also has strong support among government officials. The economic development strategy has been endorsed by the CRA and forwarded to the Los Angeles City Council for approval this spring. Property owners will continue to work with the CRA to garner funding for street and landscape improvements, as well as develop a visual identity for the corridor and spur economic investment.

In addition, Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas led the council to adopt Figueroa Street as a “Sports and Entertainment Corridor” as part of his effort to rebuild the Coliseum.

CRA DIRECTOR John Molloy has cited the Figueroa Corridor as one of the prime areas in Los Angeles that is ripe for improvement. Another is Hollywood.

With Malloy’s support, the Figueroa Corridor Committee, a group of property owners and businesses established by the Central City Association and chaired by USC alumnus Ned Fox, approached the CRA to produce the $175,000 study.

The lead architects of the plan were Doss Mabe and Lisa Padilla of the Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership in association with Harris. The firm also designed the new California Science Center and master plan for Exposition Park.

Recasting the Figueroa Corridor

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