Downtown apartments gaining hip status in L.A.

LOS ANGELES - In the future, the year 2000 might go down as the year that apartment living made a successful return to downtown Los Angeles. In August, the newly rehabilitated San Fernando Building, featuring 78 loft-style apartments, opened. During the next six months, two other 1910-era buildings - the Hellman and Continental - will open, adding another 153 units to the area.

In the midst of this development, a recently completed survey sponsored by the Los Angeles Conservancy has concluded that old office buildings in the city's downtown could produce approximately 5,000 apartment units. Killefer Flammang Purtill Architects and Degenkolb Engineers, two locally based firms, conducted the pro bono survey, which was based on an inspection of nearly 200 buildings on Broadway, Spring and Main streets.

"There is a tremendous demand for any kind of housing in Los Angeles," says Wade Killefer, principal of Killefer Flammang Purtill Architects, which designed the San Fernando apartments. "So, there is a real demand for urban housing with all of the lifestyle benefits that it affords. It's not a good opportunity for families because it doesn't have the infrastructure for kids. But for singles, empty-nesters and college students, it's great. People are tired of commuting."

The survey identified about 50 buildings in the area that were suitable for redevelopment as apartments. Each building could accommodate approximately 100 loft-style units. Los Angeles' new adaptive reuse ordinance - which speeds up city review of such projects - will mean reduced construction time for such apartments, adds Killefer.

The growing number of entertainment and recreational facilities in the area has increased the lure of downtown Los Angeles, noted Linda Dishman, director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, in a recent presentation of the survey to more than 100 local developers and property owners.

NEW YORK - While the vast majority of the city's Web hosting space lies in redeveloped buildings that once served "old economy" industries such as printing, The Durst Organization, New York, is taking a different tack with the development of NYCyberCenter between 11th and 12th avenues on 58th Street near the Hudson River. First, NYCyberCenter is unique because it will be a totally new development, unlike the aforementioned redevelopments that dot the garment and printing districts. Second, Durst will build the 500,000 sq. ft. telecom center on a purely speculative basis.

With the demand for telecom space in New York, the speculative aspect of the development causes few worries for Durst and CB Richard Ellis, which will lease the building.

"We're confident that the market for 500,000 sq. ft. of telecom space will be there," says Thomas M. Bow, director of leasing at the Durst Organization. "We don't look at it as that big of a risk."

The lack of available telecom space - and literally no new ground-up development - also bodes well for NYCyberCenter.

"For telecommunications or high-tech operational space, you're starting to see deals that exceed $50 per square foot, which parallels the office market except that this market is even tighter," says Robert Stella, senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis. "If you're looking for 100,000 sq. ft. for this use in Manhattan right now, there are few choices available."

Durst plans to begin construction in June 2001, with completion slated for July 2002. With a 200-foot by 800-foot block, the development is expandable to 1 million sq. ft. and includes 80,000 sq. ft. floorplates, 17-foot ceilings, floorload capacity to handle the mountains of high-tech equipment housed in such facilities and redundant power.

At the north end of each floor an area will be designated for the HVAC, generators and battery back-up tenants need. With server farms and computer systems worth millions of dollars, NYCyberCenter also will have security that parallels Fort Knox, with key card-entry and video surveillance at every turn.

A gigantic fire destroyed Avalon River Mews, a $70 million, 408-unit apartment complex under construction in Edgewater, N.J., at the end of August. Officials of Alexandria, Va.-based AvalonBay Communities, the owner and developer of the complex, believe insurance will cover the loss and say the disaster "will not have a material effect on [AvalonBay's] financial condition or operating results," according to a company press release. AvalonBay will start reconstruction "as soon as possible," the release adds. As of press time, the cause of the fire was not known. No serious injuries were reported, although the fire did destroy or damage eight single-family homes in the surrounding area, says the press release.

"Our principal focus at this time is to assist those affected by this fire in securing temporary housing, clothing and other necessities," said Gary Steinfield, vice president of development for AvalonBay, in a statement.

The first units were to be ready for occupancy in December. AvalonBay owns or holds an ownership interest in 132 apartment communities containing 38,480 units in 12 states and Washington, D.C.

A swarm of real estate professionals is due to arrive in Orlando, Fla., the week of Oct. 16 for the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) Annual Conference and Marketplace. This year's conference for the Herndon, Va.-based association emphasizes technological developments and applications for the real estate professional.

Project tours and workshops begin Oct. 18, but pre-conference business and events start as early as Oct. 16. To get the conference up and running, Richard Buday, president of Houston-based Archimage Inc., will present back-to-back workshops on the afternoon of Oct. 18. First up is a session entitled "3-D Approach to Facilities: Designing with Bricks and Clicks." Buday will explore the role of computer-assisted design (CAD), 3-D modeling and animation in the design process.

"Many architects are now creating electronic presentation media that are far better than the physical scale models and architectural renderings of old," says Buday. "For one thing, they are more easily updated and can evolve with the design solution. More important to facility managers and building owners is that these tools have become value-added opportunities for real estate professionals to present buildings to their clients in ways that were not available in the past."

Buday cites "virtual reality tours" of buildings as one example of new ways to present buildings to potential tenants. Computer-generated presentations allow interested parties to "walk" through the rooms of a building to grasp a better sense of it than was possible with old-style architectural models and renderings. Such computer models of architectural projects can be distributed on CD-ROM to clients, tenants and potential tenants.

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