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Black developers to transform LA’s Bunker Hill


A new “divine destination experience” is set to sprout up in Downtown Los Angeles and is touted as two of the most tony towers in town.

Angels Landing, a $2 billion development on Hill Street adjacent to Angels Flight, proposes two high-rises soaring 64 and 42 stories high. Included would be 180 condos, 252 apartments, about 500 hotel rooms and roughly 72,000 square feet of commercial space.

When complete, sometime around 2028, Angels Landing will lead to a reimagined California Plaza that will feature an expansive public square. As far as the beloved Angels Flight, the landmark funicular railway will be incorporated into the architectural design of the project. The Metro Station nearby is expected to remain in operation throughout construction.

It’s quite an undertaking. First, they’re working at the base at a 33-percent grade. Next, they have to dig down about 115 feet over 18 months to excavate roughly 8 million cubic feet of dirt (about 10 stories) to continue construction at grade level. This feat alone costs about $100 million. The designer, by the way, is Handel Architects, the New York firm that specializes in large-scale urban projects. They designed the National September 11 Memorial at the former site of the World Trade Center.

The Bunker Hill area has been undergoing redevelopment for more than 60 years. The latest addition is expected to provide significant economic stimulus for Downtown LA’s arts and cultural venues like MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Broad Museum and the venerable Music Center.

So far, the project has received all of the necessary entitlement from the city. The property was owned by the now-defunct Community Development Agency and sits on a particularly precarious plot of land that slopes downward from Bunker Hill. It’s been in the works for about a decade in the middle of the building boom in the downtown area.

In the early 1990s, the location at Fourth and Hill streets was supposed to have three office towers at California Plaza. They were only able to erect two high rises at a time when Downtown LA’s financial center was basically “oversupplied” with offices, thereby forcing a halt to any new development.

The neighborhood initially witnessed a flurry of new investment in residential and retail development, including The Grand, the Frank Gehry-designed mixed use complex across from Walt Disney Concert Hall. Then the pandemic hit.

Office workers have been slow to return and prospective residents have been reluctant to rent. This, in turn, has had a somewhat cascading effect on new retailers, hotels, restaurants and bars in the area.

Victor MacFarlane, chairman and CEO of MacFarlane Partners, believes the project will be a “game-changer” in terms of not only aesthetics but in the noble effort to employ locally—particularly African-Americans at most every point in the project. He’s been there from the planning stages to the go-ahead and believes the development to be one of the finest on the West Coast.

We’ve been through the process of city planning, and we’ve been through the process of understanding the market,” MacFarlane said. He’s already built two upscale apartment complexes near the site in recent years, highlighted by the Park Fifth Tower next to Pershing Square.

About 8,500 temporary jobs are expected to be created during construction. Upon completion— hopefully sometime just before the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics — some 800 people will be employed full time, mostly at the hotel.

The “local-hire” angle will include at least 30 percent of construction jobs awarded to women- and minority-owned businesses. MacFarlane suggests this may amount to more than $480 million in benefits to the aforementioned minority businesses.

“It’s about time the economic benefits generated by massive projects like this are provided to people who are reflective of the project,” MacFarlane said.

MacFarlane Partners bought the site in 2013. There were plans to build there, but delays and red tape found any project stalled for years. In time, his firm and the City of Los Angeles would sign off on a special “community benefit agreement” which includes a clause that stipulated that the property is required to be offered to affordable housing developers. That’s a big thing these days in most major cities that are experiencing a lack of affordable housing. The preliminary deal requires 13 “affordable” units of the 252 rental properties.

“We’ve agreed to add another 65 units off-site,” MacFarlane said because it’s a “complicated construction site” and it would be more practical to add the low-price units off-site rather than in the main project itself.

Getting through the pandemic and the resultant spike in inflation caught the attention of R. Donahue Peebles who, with MacFarlane, has devoted years to the project. They’re two of the nation’s best known African-American developers, each with their own firm. As well, the two are majority owners of Angels Landing Partners, which is responsible for building and operating Angels Landing.

Peebles said he was counting on the city being able to bounce back from the economic uncertainty of the past two years.

“This is a bet on Downtown Los Angeles,” Peebles said. And with an eye on local employment, the developers are using union labor and hotel employees are expected to be union members.

Both MacFarlane and Peebles are passionate about “ending systemic exclusion” and increasing diversity and want to boost the ranks of  minority persons in the construction and development industries. The Peebles Corporation, for instance, has a multi-billion-dollar portfolio that includes projects in New York, Boston, Philadelopha, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. MacFarlane Partners has been a pioneer in the “urban investment concept” and is a national leader in urban/smart-growth development.

Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County   is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a  program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community  newspapers across California.