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Tri-towered DTLA megadevelopment clears commission—but not without changes

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Olympia might have to cut some digital signs and make balconies overlooking the freeway unusable

Olympia would bring 1,000 hotel rooms, 879 condos, and 40,000 square feet of commercial space to Downtown LA.
Via department of city planning

A hotel and condo project that would bring three skyscrapers and 1,000 new hotel rooms to a freeway-adjacent property just north of LA Live received the backing of the city’s planning commission Thursday.

But commissioners are recommending changes to the plans, which have to win the approval of the Los Angeles City Council.

Called Olympia, the development would also bring 879 condos and 40,000 square feet of commercial space in a trio of towers that rise 43, 53, and 65 stories, respectively, on a site bounded by Olympic Boulevard, Georgia Street, James M. Wood Boulevard, and the 110 freeway.

The towers would be stacked and angled to maximize sunlight, said Paul Dana of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which is designing the project with the local firm Patterns. Olympia's design attempts to avoid creating a visually impenetrable “urban wall," Dana said.

Commissioners applauded the architecture—David Ambroz called it “inspiring.” But they took developer City Century to task for one design feature: balconies overlooking the freeway.

They’re asking the City Council to require that balconies facing the 110 simply be decorative features that are unusable.

“Common sense tells me you don’t want to be sitting outside breathing in the freeway air on a balcony,” said commissioner Caroline Choe.

Commissioner Dana Perlman shared Choe’s concerns.

“I’ve tried to make it very clear here. I can’t support that,” he said. “I really hope the developers out there hear me... it’s not healthy.”

Commissioners also struggled with the developer’s request to put flashing digital signs facing the freeway. They’ve proposed that digital signs planned to face the 110 freeway be struck from the proposal entirely.

Digital signs are a flashpoint for debate in the commission, and one that comes up often with projects in the blocks near LA Live.

“We have a cancer in this city with signage,” said Ambroz. “Piece by piece, we’ve allowed this cancer to grow.”

Ambroz said the piecemeal approval of signs has meant that their aggregate effects in Downtown haven’t been considered.

Another sore point for commissioners? Olympia does not include any affordable units for low-income tenants.

Though the project's developers will pay $18 million to a city fund that helps maintain and create affordable housing, commissioner Karen Mack argued real issue was not just creating affordable housing, but about creating democratic spaces.

“I feel very strongly about having mixed-income folks living in all the buildings that get created in the city,” she said.

City Century is an American affiliate of the Shanghai-based developer Shenglong Group. The developer has a couple other projects in the works in LA, including a 40-story tower nearby at 12th and Grand, and a mixed-use complex in Koreatown.