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Meet Your Future, LA? New Rendering Shows Wilshire Grand's Upper LED Lighting

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Image done by local firm Shimahara. "Flowering vines" is the look the developer is going for. Some may be reminded of those 80s splattered Reeboks.
Story updated, 9:48 pm: Less than a week before the City Council is scheduled to vote on the Wilshire Grand hotel and office project, developer Hanjin/Thomas Properties released a rendering showing the nebulous-sounding "architectural lighting," the changing, LED lights planned for the upper portion of the two-tower skyscraper. According to Alix Wisner, project manager for the developer Thomas Properties, the release of the rendering, sent to reporters earlier this week, comes in response to questions from the media about what the architectural lighting will look like. The rendering was also released because of issues raised at last December's Planning Commission meeting (commissioners were stumped by how the architectural lighting would work, and rejected it (a decision that was later overturned).

For now, the "flowering vines" image seen on this rendering, is "just a concept," said Wisner. Yes, the upper parts of the towers are tentatively cleared for LED images (no logos, text, or advertising are allowed), but nothing is finalized in terms of a design. Might the Wilshire Grand get Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? Lightning bolts? Baby polar bears? Beyond promising that the images would be "artistic," Wisner couldn't say. “The technology is developing so quickly," she said, adding that decisions on graphics and imagery will come later, as will decisions on how the large digital advertising "skin" will play out on the bottom of the skyscraper (one inspiration for the lower advertisements is the Chanel building in Tokyo, says Wisner, but the ad on the Wilshire Grand would be less dense due to the larger spacing of the lights).

Reaction to this image? "It's hard to know what to make of this rendering," wrote Planning Commissioner Michael Woo in an email last night. "Even for those of us who tend to be critical of large buildings being used as frames for giant billboards, it must be conceded that it is at least theoretically possible for outdoor lighting on highrise buildings to be attractive."

But Woo, whose commission voted against the architectural lighting last year, questioned the approval process for this building. "Given the late date of this rendering, all I can say is that the [approval] process seems awfully disjointed," wrote Woo. "Which makes it hard to make an intelligent decision about the impact of this project on the urban environment." Likewise, fellow Planning Commissioner Bill Roschen has called for a more comprehensive study before approving large-scale digital advertising and lighting on a building such as this.

Also seeing the rendering last night for the first time was Russell Brown, downtown booster and a longtime supporter of the Wilshire Grand development. The concept of architectural lighting is "unique and interesting," he wrote in an email. But he added: "The devil is in the details. Nothing should be allowed that voids the settlement on super graphics and digital billboards.”

Which raises the question: The LED lights are expensive to install, so will development team Hanjin/Thomas eventually seek to replace these images with advertising?“At this point, we can’t say,” said Wisner. “What’s approved is architectural lighting and that’s what we have agreed to.”

So, for now it's neon vines. As for the pattern, the City Attorney's sign ordinance, to be taken up at next week's City Council meeting, stipulates that the images on the architectural lighting can only change over the course of an hour. (The developer had been seeking to change the images over the course of two minutes.) Additionally, no lighting will cover the windows in this area; the LED strips will only be on the spandrels and be spaced 10 feet apart.

Wattage-wise, the brightness of the architectural lighting is 120 candelas at night and 3,500 candelas during the day. By comparison, the blue trim on the edge of the nearby Ritz-Marriott Hotel is 20 candelas at night, according to City Planning Department documents. The Staples Center-facing LA Live digital ads are 2,149 candelas at night, and the crown of the City National Building is 114 candelas at night.

(On levels one and two—where the biggest advertisements will go--the large scale advertising will be 3,500 candelas during the day and 800 and 900 candelas at night, respectively.)

Before Tuesday's vote, tomorrow the city will weigh in on giving what amounts to a tax rebate to the Wilshire Grand. Under the 25-year agreement, the developer will be exempted from paying the transient occupancy tax, allowing them to recoup at least $54 million and up to $79 million, according to the agreement. The Los Angeles Times has more about the deal. And young planning students at USC wanting to learn how to master such deals can bone up by reading the entire development agreement at this link.

The agreement comes as Hanjin/Thomas Properties says it can't develop the project without assistance from the city. The developer believes it will cost $365 million to develop the hotel portion of the project (the 65-story tower), but says it has a $97 million gap in construction costs. The assistance from the city will help cover that gap, according to the report, which makes no mention of the possible revenue from the signage.

But who is covering the projected revenue from that signage? The non-profit Ban Billboard Blight, of course, which took a stab at the yearly monies that could be flowing to the Wilshire Grand due to all those ads. $28 million a year is Ban Billboard's guess. But Wisner half-snorted at that figure. “I think his numbers are speculative," she said, adding her company hasn't yet done a revenue analysis on the signage.
· Wilshire Grand [Curbed LA]

Wilshire Grand

930 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90017 Visit Website