But earlier this week, city commissioners questioned whether that was even possible.
The city’s historic preservation commission reviewed plans Monday from developer Faring Capital that call for building new levels of offices, shops, and restaurant space over and around a portion of the market building, a one-time home base and refuge for LGBT activists.
Those plans also include putting three levels of underground parking directly under the building at Santa Monica and Laurel. That caught the attention of commissioners, who questioned whether it was possible to maintain the building’s integrity while digging so deep under it.
Commissioner Ed Levin doubted that doing so was technically or financially possible.
“The idea that a three-level, 40-foot deep subterranean garage can be excavated from underneath an intact French Market building is simply not credible,” Levin said. “This is such an unusual claim that it shouldn’t simply be accepted at face value.”
Levin, who is an architect, told developers he wanted to see a feasibility study conducted by an experienced structural engineer that included a cost estimate for doing the work under the French Market building.
“Such a report would preclude the applicant from later coming back to switch their preservation strategy based on a claim of unforeseeable conditions or financial hardships,” Levin said.
Commissioner Cathy Blavais agreed.
“I don’t see how this project can move forward in that regard without the additional feasibility study as to whether or not you can dig a hole under [the French Market building] without destroying ... most of the integrity of the building,” she said.
Not all commissioners were hung up on the details of the development.
Commissioner Yawar Charlie, who once had an office in the French Market, said he was excited about what the “new generation” of the site could look like.
He said “significant change” was more or less inevitable for the building.
“I would rather see something like [the proposed project] than a building in disrepair that’s not going to be reused again,” he said.
Faring’s project envisions a four-story building with new offices and retail, plus a restaurant. It’s asking the city for permission to build 15 feet taller than the site’s zoning allows—which has drawn critiques from the city’s planning commission.
The proposed development’s environmental impact report included one alternative that would build the project according to the existing code. That alternative does not include preserving the French Market building.
“We look forward to working with the city of West Hollywood and the city’s EIR consultant to address the questions raised by our city commissioners and make this outstanding project even better,” Jake Stevens, Faring’s community engagement director, told Curbed.
The project went before the commission for comments only. The project still requires approvals from multiple committees and the full City Council.