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Downtown LA's New Mixed-Users Are Full of Empty Storefronts

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The Ava Little Tokyo mixed-use apartment complex at Second and Los Angeles has been open since December, and a companion mixed-user at Second and San Pedro is well under construction and slated to open later this year. Together, the two will offer at least 520 units and 33,000 square feet of retail. AvalonBay, Ava's developer, was at one point considering a small grocery store to occupy a portion of the space, but considering a "For Lease" sign is posted in every window, those plans don't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. And so here's Ava, close to four months since opening, with a grand total of zero occupied storefronts.

One Santa Fe, the first of several planned megacomplexes to open in the Arts District, has faced similar problems, although they're at least moving in the right direction. Leases have been signed—tenants will include Grow, a small, upscale market; Café Gratitude, the upscale vegan restaurant that may or may not be a little culty; and Malin + Goetz, an upscale cosmetics line—but it's already been five months since move-ins began, and none of the spaces are even close to being finished, let alone opened. With more than a thousand new units, a fancy shopping center, and multiple redeveloped warehouses opening in the next few years, the amount of retail space in the formerly industrial Arts District is about explode. If it's taken this long to fill these few spaces, and at a time when One Santa Fe faces no competition for tenants, what happens a couple years down the line, when there's 20,000 vacant square feet on every block between First and Seventh?

Apartment rents may be sky-high, but these Downtown neighborhoods are still evolving as residential zones. Bars and coffee shops abound, but the basics—grocery stores, convenience stores, dry cleaners, post offices, etc.—are lacking. As has been made abundantly clear, mixed-use developments, generally with a combination of housing and retail, are en vogue at the moment, popping up all across the city. On paper, they make sense: fairly dense, fairly cheap, fairly supplied with amenities. But without retail tenants actually moving in, it all falls apart—residents are still forced to travel (presumably by car) to meet their needs, streets remain unactivated, workarounds are built to keep residents off the street, and potential retailers are scared off for lack of business. It's the Geoff Palmer vicious circle; the retail spaces in his enormous fauxtalian fortresses are rarely occupied.

If they're going to build all this space, developers need to work harder to be sure they can fill it. They should also focus on bringing in the necessities however they can, even if that means dropping rents. It may not be as exciting as the next Café Gratitude or Blue Bottle, but everyone needs a screwdriver at some point. Likewise, residents should be demanding this stuff. There's time to make corrections, but probably not a lot of time. This period of rapid change in Los Angeles can only last so long. —Ian Grant
· Inside Ava Little Tokyo, Where Rents Start at $2,190 a Month [Curbed LA]
· Here Are Floorplans and Pricing For Arts District's One Santa Fe [Curbed LA]
· Mapping the Arts District's Unstoppable Wave of Fancification [Curbed LA]

One Santa Fe

Santa Fe Ave. & First St., Los Angeles, CA 90013