Food & Wine Thursdays: Food Disneylands and Why LA Live Sucks

First, let me put some props out to the Eastsider Blog. He’s written a great critique of the LA Live “entertainment complex” attached to Staples Center in the South Park neighborhood of Downtown LA.

As a Downtown resident who mostly despises the expensive, hyperreal South Park neighborhood, here’s my own critique/complaint that’s been gestating for a while.

I dislike LA Live.

LA Times architecture critic Christpher Hawthorne savaged the design and concept in a review last year. His disdain is justifiable: while paying lip service to downtown revitalization the complex is in fact just another destination shopping center, blocked off from the surrounding community. You drive there, you park your car, you stay inside the complex, and you leave. You don’t integrate yourself with the surrounding community. You don’t patronize businesses in the neighborhood. Drive. Park. Shop. Leave. That’s it.

The financial backing for LA Live is enormous. It’s ESPN’s de facto HQ as every SportsCenter will be broadcast from its new studios there, though it will keep its official offices in Bristol. The Ritz-Carlton put a hotel in and there will be apartments and extensive convention space.

LA Live could indeed end up as a success as a destination, akin to the Anaheim Convention Center/Disneyland megasprawl in Orange County. But that’s just it, it’ll be a place that people go to for whatever business/pleasure purpose they might have and then leave. It won’t “revitalize downtown” anymore than Disneyland “revitalized” Anaheim. Disneyland created jobs and provided tax revenue, but it didn’t turn Anaheim into a new San Francisco, or even a new Long Beach.

Revitalization is a process that is largely organic. All that cities can do is provide good soil and enough water and sunshine, everything else will grow out on its own. When commercial monoliths get into the revitalization business you get terrariums, not gardens.

Downtown Culver City became a revitalized restaurant mecca in a largely organic way. The city renovated the buildings, made sure to build lots of (cheap and free) parking, and provided incentives to businesses to relocate, but it didn’t allow for any large scale redevelopment by any one particular group. It also mostly maintained the basic integrity of its street layouts, keeping the area open and vibrant with a sense that you’re still in a city.

The Culver City restaurants are primarily independent operations and are set in the midst of a community of retailers, production companies, city offices, Sony Pictures, and Culver Studios with architecture firms and art galleries on its eastern fringe. People often patronizing three or four different businesses in the course of an evening out. Most importantly, this downtown core is surrounded by housing, whether it’s the single-family bungalows of Culver City to the south or the working class (but gentrifying) multi-family dwellings of Los Angeles along Venice Blvd. to the north. In short, it’s a downtown the way downtowns used to be and Culver City deserves credit for providing a welcoming environment for developers without letting them crap all over the community (c.f. 3rd St. Promenade, The Grove).

This is what makes for revitalization: a reason for people to get out of their house and be in the community. The Culver City resident can walk to Trader Joe’s, Albertson’s, a dozen great restaurants, dry cleaners, printers, two movie theatres, two houses of the legitimate stage, a post office, City Hall, hospitals, schools, and several parks. The same can’t yet be said for the Downtown resident and LA Live isn’t going to change that.

A quick look at LA Live’s tenants reveals a who’s who of major chains and restaurant groups: Fleming’s Steakhouse, Wolfgang Puck, ESPNZone, Trader Vic’s, Yardhouse, and Katsuya. With LA Live’s no doubt skyhigh rents these are the only businesses that can afford to move in. These aren’t businesses that are going to attract foodies or culinary tourists. They aren’t businesses that will attract LA residents on any regular basis. These are businesses that will be patronized by out of towners who are at LA Live for conferences, concerts, or sporting events. If I live in Beverly Hills and want to eat dinner before a Lakers game, why would I do it at LA Live instead of at one of the scores of better restaurants between my house and downtown? And if I live in Beverly Hills, why would I go to Wolfgang Puck in LA Live when I could go to a Wolfgang Puck down the street?

The revitalization of downtown by LA Live is either a lip service lie or a pipe dream. True revitalization of downtown means more art walks, more grocery stores, and more businesses open after 9PM, not a mini-Vegas destination bubble for Lakers fans from Torrance and out of town conventioneers.

About David D.

I'm a wine professional. Like a real one who makes most of his living in wine and have for most of my adult life. I also write, but you can see that.
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6 Responses to Food & Wine Thursdays: Food Disneylands and Why LA Live Sucks

  1. Clint says:

    I used to work near 7th and Metro in downtown which is a bit farther north of the Staples Center area, but it always amazed me how much of a ghost town it became after 5pm, much less 9pm. Nothing stayed open, not even fast food chains. Even the homeless people disappeared.

    It was a Twilight Zone experience.

  2. David D. says:

    It’s true. It’s a place for the quick lunch business crowd and that’s about it. If LA Live actually provided legitimate late night options for downtown residents that would change, but as it stands one year out all of the night time vitality is still east of Hill St.

  3. Vera Z. says:

    You forgot to mention the best “parts” (heh heh) of the LA Live Complex – the giant upright penis and balls (hotel) and the massive vagina (Staples Center), conveniently next to one another. I’m looking forward to the great big earthquake everyone’s promising, to see if they’ll fit.

  4. Clint says:

    I just went and read the Eastsider blog. And looked at the pictures. I now fully agree with the idea of the “My Mayor Looted Our Public Funds And All I Got Was This Lousy Totalitarian Concrete Park” t-shirt.

    • Clint says:

      I mean, it’s not as horrible looking as Pershing Square, but at least Pershing Square doesn’t have video billboards.

  5. Pingback: Live And Let Die « Why Downtown?

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