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Why Did the Planning Commission Kill Wilshire Grand Architectural Lighting?

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Image of two towers from EIR; this image was meant to show advertising, but the advertising was nixed by Planning Commission

With the Wilshire Grand developer set to appear today before the city to seek the return of architectural lighting on their 45-story office and 65-story hotel project, and more digital signage at its base, Curbed caught up with various Planning Commissioners last week to find out why the group nixed the architectural lighting (defined as LED lighting, but no advertising, and which had been recommended by the Planning Department) and scaled back the signage last December.

After all, the Planning Commission has previously approved lighting on projects ranging from planned third Concerto tower (that site received "Blade Runner"-like digital signage) to the now-stalled Fig Central (and that downtown project provided guidance for the Planning Department in their recommendation of the architectural lighting for Wilshire Grand, according to Kevin Keller, City Planner).

So why did the commissioners vote the way they did? “I’m not against lighting,” says Planning Commissioner President Bill Roschen, who thought the architectural lighting proposal for the Wilshire Grand was “too vague" and didn't offer enough parameters. “There’s definitely a trend towards see high-rises in Houston and Dallas and Atlanta with lighting.

“But it doesn’t always look good,” he adds. “Do we want Los Angeles to look like Houston, Dallas, or Atlanta?”

Before moving forward with large-scale lighting on the Wilshire Grand, Roschen would like to see a design review board created to study how and if lighting on LA’s buildings could be implemented

In explaining why she voted against the architectural lighting, Planning Commission Regina Freer said she didn’t trust that the developer wouldn’t eventually ask the city for the right to turn the architectural images to advertisements. While the Planning Commission can't "control content," they can recommend guidelines, she said.

There are no plans to turn the proposed architecture into ads, according to a rep for the project. "At this point, we respect the recommendation of the Planning Department,” says Alix Wisner, director of development of Thomas Properties.

Other Planning Commissioners backed the idea of architectural lighting even if they were out-voted by their colleagues. "We should experiment,” says Commissioner Diego Cardoso. “We shouldn’t be timid when changing the landscape.”

“I know people are worried about signs,” he says. "But I am not...this is the future, you could see whole buildings change colors, change skins.” Cardoso also thinks this type of signage is appropriate for the pedestrian-heavy area around Figueroa Street.

As for other developers watching this project, Hamid Behdad, president of Central City Development Group, a subsidiary of Amidi Group of Companies, testified in favor of the project at the Planning Commission hearing last year. He believes the move to reduce the signage on the lower half of the building by the Planning Commission was a political maneuver, and is more concerned with making sure any signage proposed for a Los Angeles building--and he sees "elegant" signage as an important part of revenue for a project--is done well.

“Does it matter if a sign is 15,000 square feet or 3,000 square feet, if the 3,000 square foot ad looks bad? ”" says Behdad. “We all want nice, well-designed advertising, but none of us has the expertise, nor does LA have a design review committee?so we react politically to appease constituents who want smaller signs.”

Behdad says he hasn't seen renderings of the architectural lighting, beyond what's been shown in the environmental impact report, which showed images of LED lights and a "LA" logo. (Seen above).

But the Planning Department's casefile on the project showed small images of the planned technology, and according to Ayahlushim Getachew, Senior Vice President at Thomas Properties, all three Planning and Land Use Committee members will receive a booklet showing that technology today. The architectural lighting, she promises doubters, "will be elegant."
· Challenging Sign-Lite Recommendation, Wilshire Grand Seeks More Wattage [Curbed LA]

Wilshire Grand

930 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90017 Visit Website