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Big dreams from downtown Los Angeles' big developers

October 12, 2010 |  6:31 pm

An exhibit hall that could be transformed into a football stadium and an electric street car that could whisk people up Broadway were some of the big ideas tossed around Tuesday by some of downtown Los Angeles’ most influential developers.

Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and developers Jim Thomas, Tim Leiweke, Nelson Rising and Tom Gilmore shared their visions of for the next 10 years at a panel at the downtown Marriott, hosted by the Central City Assn.

They admitted that the recession -- which has already stalled some planned projects and left a lot of loft and office space empty -- might slow things down a bit. But they vowed to persevere.

Broad said he would open his new $300-million downtown art museum by December 2012 . Thomas, of Thomas Properties Group, promised to build a 60-story office building by 2015. And Leiweke, president of AEG, shared the details of his company's proposal to redevelop one of the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center into an exhibition space that could double as an NFL stadium.

Leiweke said he and City Councilwoman Jan Perry have discussed a plan in which his firm would pay for part of the hall's construction in exchange for the management contract for the complex. A different NFL stadium complex has been proposed for the City of Industry.

Leiweke, who helped bring Staples Center and L.A. Live to the Figueroa Street corridor, said other events such as the World Cup and NCAA Final Four games could take place in the downtown stadium. He said it would help the entire downtown economy.

“Game, set, match," Leiweke said. "Everything else will come. Retail will come, transportation will come and people will move back down here.”

The Central City Assn. is planning a legislative agenda to help push things forward downtown, said executive director Carol Schatz. The committee may petition the city to make it easier for restaurants to get permits to serve food outside and may advocate for a better transit system to help circulate pedestrians to neighborhoods within the area, she said.

Schatz said other things -- like lane changes on the 110 and 10 Freeways and the proposed "Subway to the Sea" -- might get the association's support because they would make it easier for people to get downtown.  

Broad said increasing the number of cultural institutions also will be important. To that end, he said, next month will mark the groundbreaking of the first phase of the contemporary art museum that will house his personal collection. Broad said he knows his timeline for completing the Grand Avenue museum is ambitious.

“The architects think I’m crazy,” he said to laughter.

Broad and the others acknowledged that the future of downtown hinges on the nation’s overall economic climate.

The Grand Avenue Project's plans for a $3-billion, Frank Gehry-designed hotel, condo and shopping complex have been delayed indefinitely because developers have been unable to secure financing. Rising, chairman of Grand Avenue Committee Inc., said he believes the situation will improve with time.

“It’s not going to be heaven in 2011,” he said. “But I think it’ll be keen in 2013.”

-- Kate Linthicum