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Downtown LA construction boom is largest in nearly a century

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But the pace of development citywide still lags behind that of decades past

The tops of three under-construction towers and a trio of cranes. Photo by Will Weber

The Downtown LA skyline has changed considerably in just the past few years, with the Wilshire Grand now nearly complete and the first of four buildings in the towering Metropolis complex just about move-in ready. Plenty of other major projects are on the way—in South Park and beyond—and the pace of new development is now on pace to eclipse the skyscraper boom that reshaped the area in the 1980s, according to the LA Times.

In fact, the Times reports that the number of large projects since 2010 is the highest Downtown has seen since the 1920s. In all, 79 developments of 50,000 square feet or larger have been built or are under construction since the beginning of the decade. That compares to 64 projects in the ‘80s and 155 in the ‘20s.

Still, while developers from all over the world descend upon Downtown, the pace of growth citywide is still well below where it was in decades past. That’s particularly true in one crucial area: housing.

Numerous reports suggest that a huge increase in supply is necessary to slow the rapid growth in housing prices that has made the city unaffordable to many residents. As housing advocacy group Abundant Housing LA reports, only about 25,000 new units were built in all of Los Angeles between 2010 and 2015. Meanwhile, well over 100,000 units were constructed in every decade from the 1940s to the 1980s.

The pace of housing development quickened in 2016, with more than 13,000 units added across the city. Not surprisingly, nearly a third of those units are located in the Downtown area.

Projects in development will bolster those numbers, but they are still unlikely to help the city surpass even the sluggish pace of construction in the 1990s and 2000s—and won’t come close to the peak building years in the 1950s, when more than 250,000 new units came to market.

Moreover, many projects in the pipeline would be threatened by the passage of Measure S, which Los Angeles voters will weigh in on in March. The ballot measure, widely seen as anti-development, would place a two-year moratorium on most large projects, while preventing city officials from making any exceptions to local zoning guidelines that are, in many cases, decades-old.

A recent economic report on the measure (paid for by the opposition campaign) suggested that its passage could halt the construction of up to 2,800 multifamily units per year.