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L.A. City Council approves array of lights, graphic displays on proposed downtown Wilshire Grand towers

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to throw its support behind an elaborate package of new flashing signs, illuminated graphics and moving text for two planned downtown skyscrapers, ignoring critics who warned that such brightly lighted images would degrade the look of the city.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl cast the lone vote against the plan.

Minutes after the initial vote, the City Council reconsidered the sign district. During that second vote, Rosendahl agreed to stay out of the room, making the decision unanimous and avoiding the need for a vote next week.

“They didn’t need to wait another week. It was a done deal,” he said.

The council created a new one-block sign district for the planned 45-story reconstruction of the Wilshire Grand Hotel and accompanying 65-story office tower.

The sign district will allow various kinds of digital signs on the first 10 floors of the two towers. The tops of the two skyscrapers will offer digital signs advertising the buildings’ owner and major tenants. And on dozens of stories in between, LED lights would display noncommercial images such as flowers and vines that would fade in and out.

Councilman Ed Reyes praised the “architectural lighting” scheme, saying the graphics on the upper floors should not be confused with other brightly lighted billboards. “It is art. And I believe it adds more culture” to Los Angeles, he said.

Added Councilman Dennis Zine: “I am amazed at how anyone could be opposed to this.”

The sign district is the first to be approved since the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the city’s ban on new billboards last year. That law allowed sections of the city to be carved out as exceptions to the citywide billboard ban, as long as the improvements helped to eliminate blight and address traffic safety.

In casting the lone opposing vote, Rosendahl said the city should have found a way to share in the financial proceeds of the new digital advertising on the two buildings. “We don’t have a dime of revenue out of those, and those folks who put up those billboards are making money hand over fist,” he said.

The council already agreed last week to give developer Korean Air and its subsidiary, Hanjin International Corp., a tax break of up to $79 million for the two towers over the next 25 years. On Tuesday, council members also agreed to allow the developers to purchase “floor area” permits from the city’s Convention Center, which will allow the proposed office tower to be taller than the zoning allows.

An array of union leaders packed the council chamber to speak in favor of the project. Maria Elena Durazo, the head of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, an organization that has worked to elect several of the council’s members, said the proposal would create roughly 7,300 construction jobs and include safeguards for hotel employees who would be displaced while the existing 16-story hotel is demolished and a new hotel is built.

“This project is going to bring a lot of hope to a lot of members in our community,” said David Kersh, government affairs representative for the Carpenters Contractors Cooperation Committee, a construction trade group.

Opponents of the sign district said they did not oppose the hotel’s redevelopment, but said new flashing signs and images would barrage the public and, in some cases, distract motorists. “Digital billboards do not solve the unemployment in the city. Digital billboards will not increase tourism in our city,” said Jan Book, a resident of Marina del Rey who voiced exasperation with the digital signs that are located near her home.
The sign district for the Wilshire Grand project is so complicated that it is divided into four vertical levels and three geographic subsections. While some lighted signs will change every eight seconds, others will change every four minutes. Other sections will feature streaming text.

The Wilshire Grand complex has been backed enthusiastically by Councilwoman Jan Perry, a 2013 mayoral candidate who pushed hard for approval of the signs and images sought by Korean Air and its partner, Thomas Properties Group.

Perry persuaded her colleagues to double the size of the scrolling news ribbons that would be displayed on the first three floors of the towers. Between the fourth and 10th floors, Perry and her colleagues tripled the amount of signage allowed by the Planning Commission, from 7,100 square feet to 30,900 square feet.

And on the upper stories, Perry won approval of the noncommercial architectural lighting. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s appointees on the Planning Commission voted in December to oppose that lighting.

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: The Wilshire Grand Hotel located at Wilshire Boulevard and 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles will be torn down to make way for the Wilshire Grand Project, which will feature two skyscrapers that include a top-to-bottom array of lights, images and advertisements unlike anything now on the downtown skyline. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (55)

Why stop with just the signs. In Australia some of the low-end shops have recorded barkers screeching endless sales spiels like the Sham wow or Snuggies adds as seen on TV through loudspeakers outside of the shops. In Latin America some of the more aggressive businesses even send around sound trucks to blast their sales messages to residential neighborhoods. The City Council could also sell naming rights to our local governments for cash. We could have "Geico County" instead of Los Angeles County and we could live in the City of “Doritoville” instead of Los Angeles. Who could object to a giant green gecko looming over the city or making a tortilla chip our civic icon? The commercial possibilities are endless as long as we give our business people a free hand to annoy us, and ignore the boundaries of good taste

Can't wait to see who the major backer for Jan Perry's mayoral campaign are. It sure isn't the people of L.A.

Did anyone ask where the debt financing is and when construction is going to start?

“It is art. And I believe it adds more culture” to Los Angeles, he said.
Great. Now we can agree that graffiti is also art, yes?
Art is in the eye of the recipient of large financial contributions.

Sorry, any way you cut it, sounds tacky to me. Ok with the redevelopment, though. And, what's with having a councilman shown the door to get a unanimous vote? He had a good point. Where's the LA revenue in this signage?

So now Los Angeles wants to look just like New York or Tokoyo? Not very original.

Ever since I watched Blade Runner back in the 80's, I always wanted to see Downtown filled with buildings with graphic light displays. As gaudy a spectacle LA Live has become, there is no doubt that it is drawing tourists to Downtown and I think Downtown LA can add more glitz and lights like wee see in Times Square or The Strip. Turn Downtown into a true tourist destination like Hollywood.

Just flat-out disgusting. We're going to look like the tacky part of Las Vegas in no time with this paid-off council people. Korean Air is a developer, not an airline? And deserves a tax break for a totally private enterprise?
Does "purchasing floor area" mean some sort of swap with the Convention Center so it can't be rebuilt bigger and better, for the actual benefit of LA taxpayers? Something is very, very rotten in Denmark and L.A.

Any word on how much power will be consumed by these huge signs? LA has no Hoover Dam, this isnt Vegas. Where are the happy CA environmentalist to protest this one? HAHA

Hollywood looks like Times Square in NYC, now will downtown? We should build LA without becoming another NYC.

Fantastic news! as a downtown resident, i couldnt be happier. If this was in the middle of the historic core, i would be against it, but at this location, its perfect. We will now have a new tallest in LA with great lighting!


Let's move on and start building...

Councilman Bill Rosendahl stated "We don't have a dime of revenue..." (from the digital lighting). I do have to agree with his concerns, especially with the bed-tax subsidy the city has already negotiated with the developers.

However, considering the history of downtown L.A. and it's notoriety for lacking a viable urban core, such negotiations reflect the disadvantage we have for being far behind from other large great cities. We are globally known for popular places like Hollywood and Disneyland, but neither are in downtown.

So basically, until DOWNTOWN Los Angeles has that competitive advantage like other cities (New York, London, Tokyo, etc.) we need not go over our heads on such financial negotiations IF there is a potential for higher returns in the long run. Those lights will definitely add culture, especially when other new large developments come into play (stadium, etc.). The Law of Attraction never fails. Maybe later, when DTLA has built up and proven itself a reputation unlike before, can city officials be in a better position to negotiate with future developers.

Until then, we should just enjoy the show of seeing DTLA grow and prosper for now...

Well, here it is, plain as day. For so many, life has become nothing more than a political battle to control everything.

Never mind the unemployment rate. Never mind the trillions in debt our country is in. Never mind that the state of California has spent itself into oblivion and bankruptcy...let's argue about news banners and images of flowers and vines on the sides of some buildings. What a myopic world politicians live in.

I thought these Liberals were trying to save electricity and go green.

Putting up a mediocre building for Los Angeles ? Hey, no problem ! Just turn it into a flashing billboard !

WOW! No money for the city from the people who would be erecting those elaborate signs and flashing lights? No money from the people who have the tons of cash it would take to do that? Guess LA doesn't *need* all that money! Seriously, Councilman Rosendahl is the only Councilman who has any *sense* about this! Here's ONE situation where the lone holdout is the only one who is RIGHT!

To Dennis Zine: We don't trust the City Council or developers, that's why we are against this project. Over the last 10 years, Los Angeles has seen an explosion of billboards, supergraphics - now we are having sign-districts shoved down our throats. That the City Council and the last City Attorney took hundreds of thousands of dollars from Clear Channel, CBS/Decaux (Hello, Jan Perry!) means that the LACC is in cahoots with the outdoor advertising industry. WE DO NOT BELIEVE that the images above the 10th floor will be flowers - they will be for advertising. Nobody wants LA to look like Tokyo except the CC. Dennis, you are selling out Los Angeles for your own selfish political gain. Sahme on you.

Something very fishy regarding the overboard enthusiasm for this lots-of money-involved proposal.The flippant and dismissive “I am amazed at how anyone could be opposed to this comment ”is particularly unsettling.
This is an incredibly tacky lights and billboard project that shows scant regard for a grown up metropolis.
Still, why am I surprised with the decision; there are blindingly obvious vested interests here....

Sad and pathetic that the LA City Council allowed this to happen. Not only does it increase blight to our City, but has anyone thought about how much energy these enormous signs take to illuminate? Downtown Los Angeles is becoming more and more like the depressing future envisioned in the film Bladerunner.

Yo, lets make LA the new Vegas ... what a bunch of bribe taking, anti-intellectual, anti-cultural morons!

I am certain, ALL OF L.A. is stunned....just stunned, over this decision. Let's see how the cash flows for Perry's 2013 run at the BIG PRIZE; the Mayoral cash-flow Office.

Now downtown LA is going to go sleeze. Just like Time's Square did and all the criminal activities that come with it. Thanks I will avoid the downtown area from now on.

as long as it produces 100% of its power onsite using solar panels, that's fine. what they can't do is force the rest of us to pay more for energy (and/or pollute our planet more) because they are grotesquely over-consuming for no reason.

solar panels or no deal.

Shades of the movie 'Blade Runner'!

And, as usual, greed (by developers) trumps good sense.
I hope the city doesn't mind the traffic problems (and accidents) they're about to be responsible for.

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