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Holy Tokyo, Downtown! Wilshire Grand Hotel Project Could Go Electric

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Images from the draft EIR, showing towers with and without electronic signage. This is with signage
In a move that would dramatically change the downtown skyline, the developers of the proposed AC Martin-designed Wilshire Grand project are asking for the creation of a new sign district in the Financial District, one that would ultimately allow them to swath large parts of their two towers in LA Live-like electronic advertising. Think: Scrolling, blinking and animated images emitting off a 65-story tower and a 45-story tower. Not only would this style of digital advertising on two tall towers be unprecedented in LA, but it would also essentially extend the path of LA Live, bringing the buzz-y style that defines that district towards the Financial District. So what to think? On the one hand, it's a scenario of oooh, Tokyo-style animated fun, electronic art lighting up the sky. On the other hand, it's a scenario of giant digital Charmin ads blinking down at drivers stuck in traffic on the 101 Freeway.

Last year, Hanjin International Corporation and Thomas Partners announced their plans to knock down the aging Wilshire Grand hotel. According to the recently published draft EIR for the project, the new Wilshire Grand (no name yet) will offer 560 hotel rooms or condo-hotel rooms, and 1.5 million square of office space in two towers, all in a 65-story tower building and a 45-story tower building.

Renderings show examples of what this project would look like both with and without digital signs. (Billboards and supergraphics are banned in this section of the city.) From a logistical point of view, the lights would be affixed on sections below each window. Each section of the building would allow for different types of electronic signage (be it animated or scolling, for example). In some ways, the proposal is similar in style to Sonny Astani's proposed "Blade Runner" wall he wanted to create for his first Concerto project (though this looks to be far more comprehensive in terms of pure signage area).

And here's the definition of what type of signage could be included, per the EIR. "...large-scale animated and static signs designed to convey a business, product, service, profession, commodity, activity, event, person, institution, brand, or any other commercial or noncommercial message, including Changeable Copy Signs (to be utilized for a scrolling news ribbon) and Integral Electronic Display Signs. Architectural lighting could also comprise any part of the signage program."

And the draft EIR acknowledges the radical way the signage would transform this neighborhood. From the report: "These elements would change the existing character of the area, creating a significant impact. Therefore, it is conservatively concluded that the change in visual character would be substantial and impacts associated with signage would be significant."

The draft EIR lists alternatives, ranging from no signage to limiting signage to only 150 feet up the buildings, for example.

So how will the city react? As for the requested sign district, creating new sign districts is never simple, according to Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight. One of the problems the Planning Department has faced is when sign districts are created for single development, says Hathaway. "The Planning Department and members of the Planing Commission have said that they want to make sure to tighten up sign district provisions so sign districts wouldn't be created for a single project. This is completely antithetical [to that notion]." With the creation of this new sign district, another developer in the area could request the same type of signage for his or her own building.

In regards to specific questions about the project, Thomas Properties Group issued the following statement: "TPG has submitted a request for a Supplemental Use District for the Wilshire Grand project. An SUD allows the city to approve a comprehensive signage program for a particular geographic area. The TPG proposal includes way finding, tenant and building identification signage as well as advertising signage, though it specifically prohibits super graphics. The program is fully described in the project description section of the DEIR."

Construction on the Wilshire Grand project is anticipated to commence in 2011, with full occupancy to occur by 2020, according to the report. Two days ago, the Downtown News reported the developer is seeking a tax break for this project.

Here's the link to the draft EIR. UPDATE: Anyone interested in this project (pro, con, neutral) may want to send comments to the city. Comments are due by August 23, 2010
Mariana Salazar
Los Angeles Department of City Planning
200 North Spring Street, Room 601
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 978-6566 (fax)
Mariana.Salazar@lacity.org

Reference: ENV-2009-1577-EIR-GB

And here's the rendering that was shown last year when the project was announced: UPDATE, 2: And Dennis Hathaway has broken down the numbers.

· Breaking: Wilshire Grand Hotel To Be Destroyed For Hotel, Office Project [Curbed LA]

Wilshire Grand

930 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90017 Visit Website