A rendering of the Ensemble project proposed to replace the parking lots currently located between 3rd and 4th Streets and Pacific Avenue.
The City of Long Beach continued to purge its former redevelopment property holdings Tuesday night as the city council approved another site for purchase, this time greenlighting a $6 million sale of the property located at the northeast corner of 3rd Street and Pacific Avenue to an Arizona developer.
The site’s buyer, Ensemble Investments LLC, is currently proposing to build an 18-story tower along with a smaller 7-story mid-rise building that would include a mix of residential, amenities and retail space that is expected to create over 1,500 permanent and temporary jobs. Right now, the space holds public and city parking lots and could see a significant increase with a development of the space as it will provide property tax revenue that is currently not generated.
Director of Economic and Property Development Michael Conway said that although the Ensemble offer was not the highest price offered to the city—the highest bid was $9.8 million—its $128 million proposed design is larger and will be more economically beneficial to the city in the long run. The city is slated to receive about 21 percent of the sale price after money is distributed throughout Los Angeles County.
The sale last night only approved the transaction to acquire the parcel of land, not the actual building plan. Conway said that there would still need to be about a 90-day due diligence period coupled with an 18-month entitlement before ground would be broken on any kind of construction.
“Once an application is submitted and we understand the scope of the project outreach to the adjoining property owners and the other stakeholders surrounding the property will commence,” Conway said. “Ensemble will be part of that outreach and they will hear and respond to the concerns of the community members.”
Concerns about how the proposed project will affect neighboring buildings like the Kress Lofts, the Walker Building and the Dolly Varden Hotel were raised during the public comment portion of the item with residents questioning the size of the project and how it would impact parking.
“We all chose to live in downtown, we like the idea of being in an urban environment,” said Leallyn Noble, a resident of the Walker Building. “We also get it about density, but dang, this is a lot of density in a corner of a block! What we’re saying is the concerns that we have are not just during construction, but they are literally concerns about the impact.”
Another resident of the Walker Building said that the project, to him, represented another instance of the city being too eager and desperate to secure a developer. He said Long Beach should have the upper hand in those negotiations, adding that developers should feel fortunate to be able to negotiate with the city not the other way around before asking if the sheer mass of the project needed to be squeezed into the footprint of corner lots.
“We don’t need something big just because it’s big,” he said. “We don’t need it all in one shot.”
The dissent was not limited to the public as one of the competing developers, First Hill LLC, was on hand to protest the sale to Ensemble. Ravi Bendapoudi said that they lacked the ability to address both the economic and environmental issues surrounding this kind of urban development.
Bendapoudi said that his group had built a Trader Joe’s in Westwood with a parking ratio of 2-1, a ratio that his group had proposed for the 3rd and Pacific location, and pointed out that the Ensemble project had a ratio that was closer to 1-1.
“When we build new projects without sufficient parking we’re going to create a parking, environmental social disaster where you have people driving around looking for parking that doesn’t exist because the developer didn’t build enough parking,” Bendapoudi said. “It’s going to be really, really bad for downtown. It’s going to kill downtown businesses, it’s going to kill small businesses and it’s a really bad idea.”
Parking will always be a central issue in the downtown area, especially as the city moves forward with its plans to create more density in the area to attract people and businesses along with them. Mayor Robert Garica touched on that in his closing remarks, stating that as the economy continues to improve the downtown core should expect more of these projects to arise.
First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez asked for a report back from staff to help residents better locate parking in the area as the sale of the plot at 3rd and Pacific will eliminate dozens of parking spaces that were available to monthly permit holders as well as daily users at the rate of $5 per day. The City Place structures, which holds about 1,800 spaces, are about half-full at any given time she said, but she requested a report back on other options for residents in the area.
“I believe that there is parking available but we have to pay for it often times, and I know that’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes,” Gonzalez said. “I lived right off Pine Avenue and I know wholeheartedly how hard it is to find parking sometimes but I think if we had a good measure of how many spaces are in that adjacent area it would be helpful for residents to identify where they are.”