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City advances plan to give financial assistance to hotel development near Expo Park

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A city committee voted to look into what kind of incentives would be most helpful to the project

Old rendering of The Fig
A rendering of The Fig Project.
Photo courtesy VisionScape Imagery, Inc.

A city committee is moving forward with a plan to give taxpayer incentives to a developer that plans to build a hotel and housing complex just east of Exposition Park.

The Los Angeles City Council’s economic development committee approved a motion Tuesday that allows the city’s chief legislative analyst’s office to hire consultants to study the project and recommend incentives that would be most helpful to the development.

The developer, Ventus Group (formerly Spectrum Group Real Estate), will give the city $150,000 to pay the consultant’s fees. Recently, the city has given incentives to the convention center-adjacent Fig+Pico project, in the form of $103.3 million worth of tax rebates, and it gave $61 million in tax breaks to the developers of the Wilshire Grand skyscraper in Downtown

The Fig Project would demolish 32 rent-controlled housing units, making way for 298 hotel rooms, 222 units of student housing, and 186 additional housing units—82 of which would be available to households making less than 80 percent of the area median income.

But the prospect of using city funds to help pay for the mixed-use project, has drawn ire from activists who say demolishing rent-controlled units at a time when residents are struggling to afford their rent is counterproductive.

The motion noted the city’s need for hotel rooms to serve convention center, where an expansion is planned, as well as to serve tourists coming to the 2028 Olympics, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (set to open in 2021), and Los Angeles Football Club Stadium, which opened last month.

But opponents say there’s a pressing need now for housing that Angelenos can afford, pointing to the omnipresent homelessness crisis and the city’s housing crunch.

“We are in a housing availability and affordability crisis,” one speaker told the economic development committee. “We are not in a hotel development crisis... This proposal makes it clear that the beneficiaries are not current residents but wealthy visitors, the tourism industry, and real estate developers.”

Councilmember Curren Price Jr., who put forth the motion, says this project attempts to balance the need for affordable housing with the need for hotel rooms. “We’re always challenged trying to balance” different interests and uses, Price said.

“We certainly do need more hotel rooms as we are moving forward. But we also need to provide more affordable housing ... We’re trying to be sensitive and we want to always achieve some balance,” he said.

As proposed, the 4.4-acre development would replace eight, rent-controlled residential buildings and what appears to be three parking lots on a property bounded by the 110 Freeway, West 39th Street, Figueroa, and the Expo Park Plaza strip mall.

Each component of the project would be contained in its own seven-story building. (Plans to include a tower in the development were scrapped last year.)

The complex would also have about 69,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space spread across the three buildings, about 20,000 square feet of creative office space, and a central seven-story parking structure.

The Fig Project’s environmental impact report forecasts an 18-month build-out period, with completion in 2020.