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In L.A.’s Broadway Theater District, developer builds condos priced for first-time buyers

Beckoned by the lingering allure of Old Hollywood, a developer is building a $300-million condominium skyscraper on a long-moribund corner in the historic Broadway Theater District.

The intersection, at Broadway and 4th Street, is part of a six-block stretch of downtown that is home to 12 movie theaters erected between 1910 and 1931, when the district had the highest concentration of cinemas in the world and movie premieres were a regular occurrence.

Broadway “has a lot of stories behind it,” developer Winfred Zhang said. “It’s getting more and more interest, and we thought the Historic Core would be a very good choice for us.”

Zhang is chief executive of SCG America, the U.S. subsidiary of Shanghai Construction Group. Thursday will mark the official groundbreaking for its first project in the western U.S., the 35-story Perla condo and retail complex at 400 S. Broadway.

It arrives as dozens of other residential developments are going up downtown, including dual high-rise apartment towers rising a few blocks to the south at 8th and Spring streets.

Perla — Spanish for “pearl” — will meld old and new elements into its design. The biggest nod to the past is a 10-story base structure known as a podium that will stand flush against the sidewalks of Broadway and Fourth Street as the neighborhood’s historic structures do.

Unlike older nearby buildings that include former department stores and offices, however, Perla will have a slim 25-story tower jutting up from roughly the middle of the 10-story podium.

It will also have three outdoor decks, including one on the building’s roof, intended for recreation. Spread among the decks, residents will find a swimming pool, cabana lounges, fire pits, gas barbecues, outdoor kitchens and two dog runs — one for big pooches and another for small ones.

The wide-ranging amenity package, which will include outdoor yoga and spinning classes on the tower roof, is part of the developer’s plan to make the project’s small units more enticing to buyers who might not be able to afford bigger condos.

SCG is going after young, first-time homeowners, Zhang said. While the project has units as large as 1,300 square feet, others are only 400 square feet with prices starting in the $350,000 range, or about $850 per square foot. He hopes residents will be enticed to hang out in shared spaces for fun.

“We have diversified the place with very large common areas,” he said, including a combined total of 48,000 square feet of outdoor space on the three decks.

The building will include a four-story atrium evocative of the nearby Bradbury Building and will include a raised lounge. There will be a fitness center off the atrium, a media room, office space operated by WeWork, an outdoor game room and an elaborate indoor golf simulator.

At street level will be businesses intended to serve residents and neighbors, such as a restaurant, coffeehouse and bakery, Zhang said.

Sales of its units are to begin next spring, with the building’s opening set for 2020.

New condominiums have been in short supply downtown, but hundreds are coming to market now as the $1-billion Metropolis complex near L.A. Live is completed in phases. Some units in Metropolis are fetching more than $1,000 per square foot, according to the Mark Co., a San Francisco real estate marketing company.

Mark Co. President Alan Mark, who does not represent Perla, said SCG America could tap an underserved clientele by pricing units as low as $350,000, about half of the current typical cost of a new downtown condo.

Many are priced over $1 million, and prices are on their way up. In August, the average price per square foot of a new condo downtown was $802, Mark said, up 9% from the same period a year ago.

“Affordability is a runaway crisis in California,” he said. “There is a tremendous need for pricing in that range.”

Mark also judges the blocks around Staples Center to be a different market that doesn’t necessarily compete with Broadway.

The Historic Core “is almost like a whole other neighborhood with no inventory,” Mark said.

With Perla, SCG America joins several other Chinese real estate companies that are building some of the biggest projects ever erected in downtown Los Angeles. Metropolis, which includes three condo towers and an Indigo Hotel, is being built by Shanghai-based Greenland.

Oceanwide Holdings, based in Beijing, is building a $1-billion mixed-use project on Figueroa Street across from Staples Center with a Park Hyatt hotel and more than 500 residences. Sales will commence next year with move-in starting in 2019.

Shenzen Hazens, based in Shenzen, bought land nearby at Figueroa and Olympic Boulevard where it plans to build a high-rise residential tower and a W hotel.

In January, Bejing-based Chinese Communications Group said it would invest $290 million to help fund the planned $1-billion Grand Avenue Project across the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That complex, designed by architect Frank Gehry, is to include condos, apartments, shops, restaurants and a hotel.

Creating the Perla building in a historic neighborhood came with challenges such as a city requirement forbidding garage driveways on Broadway. The required sidewalk-to-sidewalk footprint could have made it hard for sunlight to reach inside the middle of the podium, architect Daun St. Amand said, so the sky-lit atrium was a must.

The lower portion of the building is intended to blend into the old neighborhood in its proportions and lines, while the tower is more modern, said Amand of CallisonRTKL. “We wanted to create a building that fits into the historic context but is also of our time.”

The Perla location was once home to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in an office building dating to the 19th century. It was replaced in 1984 by a one-story retail building that was razed to make way for Perla.

Before World War II, downtown L.A. was the cinema capital of the world. Dozens of theaters screened Hollywood’s latest fare, played host to star-studded premieres and were filled nightly with thousands of moviegoers.

Theaters closed one by one in the decades after the war as people moved to the suburbs and started watching television. Some of the surviving venues, such as the Orpheum and United Artists theaters, occasionally show movies and host events, but the Bringing Back Broadway initiative backed by area Councilman José Huizar calls for the old theaters to reopen for daily screenings.

That has yet to happen, but Huizar called Perla “a major addition” to the movement to return glamour to Broadway.

SCG America considered joining other big Chinese developers in the burgeoning South Park neighborhood near Staples Center, Zhang said, but found the Historic Core more promising as a place to stand out and make a statement.

“We want to show our best, what we can do,” Zhang said. “That’s why we decided to do it in this area.”