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Urban Design: A Tale of Two Downtowns

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by Jack Skelley


How hard has the housing slump hit Downtown L.A.? Two buildings tell two different stories. The Rowan in the Old Bank District has scheduled an auction to unload 79 lofts on February 8. Whereas Evo in South Park has closed sales on a dozen condos in the last eight weeks: This includes a $3 million, all-cash penthouse deal last week - the largest purchase price for a single residential unit in Downtown, ever.

The Rowan is appeasing its lenders, who “have mandated that approximately 50% of the building be sold before any escrow can close” (according to auction website), an admission that sales are in the dumps. Meanwhile, considering just 1,813 new homes sold in Southern California’s entire six-county area during this period, Evo’s 12 sales likely make it the region’s hottest project. (Evo’s deals are actual “closings,” not just “under contract,” as other developers often claim.)

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So what accounts for the difference? Location, location… and design. While The Rowan offers refurbished lofts in an old building in the Skid Row-adjacent Old Bank District, Evo is a sleek, Silver LEED-certified trophy tower, steps from booming L.A. Live, the subway and light rail.


Jack Kyser, senior vice president of Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, says of Evo: “This is a brand-new project extremely well located along the Figueroa and Flower corridor with access to a growing number of amenities. That makes it a genuine success story in what is a tough residential real estate market.”

According to a recent “Emerging Trends” report from Urban Land Institute, Los Angeles, expect post-recession L.A. to spur such projects that look more like Portland than L.A. (Evo’s developers, The South Group, are from Portland), with attractive urban amenities: “We're seeing more interest in being closer to jobs and spending less time commuting,” says report author Bob Gardner.

“Architects will be among the most important figures to respond to this challenge, with new designs that put high degrees of livability into high-density development.”

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Photos courtesy of Rowan and Evo. Jack Skelley also represents Evo and Urban Land Institute Los Angeles

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post did not include disclosure information about the author. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail LAist Editor Zach Behrens at