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LOS ANGELES � As a boy, John Whitaker and his grandmother rode the red trolley cars through downtown Los Angeles on Sunday afternoons, watching the cityscape pass on their way to buy eggs. He attended Glendale High School, just north of downtown L.A., and University of Southern California Law School, immediately south. As a real estate lawyer, his career has focused on building up that downtown area, helping to put many Bunker Hill skyscrapers on the map and working closely with the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. Despite all that work, and recent efforts to bring in loft housing and other attractions, Whitaker thinks there’s still something missing. “Downtown has never been a community, and that’s always been my goal,” he says. Earlier this year, the 63-year-old partner at DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary started a project that may help him realize that dream. Whitaker is one of the attorneys representing New York-based developer The Related Cos. on the $1.8 billion Grand Avenue development, an internationally publicized plan to energize the city’s downtown. A joint effort between the city, the county and Related, the Grand Avenue project envisions 2,000 new housing units, a hotel, restaurants, retail and a 16-acre park that’s being billed as the Central Park of Los Angeles. The project aims to tie together the Music Center, office buildings on Bunker Hill � home to many law firms � and attractions such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and City Hall. City officials hope the park becomes a welcoming spot where tourists and locals gather for outdoor concerts and festivals. For someone who has worked on downtown development for 25 years, it’s the culmination of a career for Whitaker. “It’s been really exciting to see the downtown evolve,” he said, looking out his office window at some of the structures he’s helped create. Related selected Whitaker for the transactional side of the project and Edward Casey, a partner at Weston Benshoof Rochefort Rubalcava MacCuish, for the land use and environmental portion. There was no formal beauty contest. “I solicited input from a lot of people I knew downtown, and those were the two names that surfaced quickly,” said Doug Gardner, the Grand Avenue project executive for Related. “We wanted really high quality legal expertise.” Like Whitaker, Casey also has a personal attachment to the project. As a New York native, he sees an opportunity to make Los Angeles more of a 24-7 city. “When I saw the plans, in terms of how everything was integrated, it brought up memories of home,” he said. “This will really bring the downtown to life � so it’s not just office after office.” CHALLENGING STRUCTURE Along with the excitement of working on the highly publicized project, there’s also some interesting legal work required. Related will develop the project on land owned by both the city and the county � an unusual arrangement that complicates the legal process from a practical and procedural standpoint. “It just makes it more cumbersome � you have to go through more steps and get more people’s input,” Whitaker said. Because the county and city do not want to sell their land, Related has agreed to rent it with a 99-year, pre-paid ground lease for $50 million. The arrangement actually requires three separate leases, two for each of the county’s separate parcels and one for the city’s parcel. There’s another piece of land flanking the project that Related may buy from a private owner. To simplify matters, both the city and county are represented by a joint powers authority called the Los Angeles Grand Avenue Authority. “It’s not always easy for local government to cooperate, but this has been a good experience working together,” said Paul Rutter, the managing shareholder at Gilchrist & Rutter, who is representing the Grand Avenue Authority. The project’s six-inch thick implementation plan, the first step for defining the process, was approved by all parties involved within three months. Rutter attributes this to streamlined communication and strong overall support for the project. Although articles in the Los Angeles Times have raised questions about the wisdom of the financing model, and pieces in the Times and other newspapers have critiqued the architectural aesthetics, there does not appear to be any organized opposition to the project. One complication is a previous agreement between the city and the county in regard to some development plans that never came to fruition. Whitaker is trying to figure out what parts of that agreement, such as environmental studies and mitigation measures, are still in effect and how those relate to any new agreement in the area. While Whitaker is ironing out development agreements, Casey will be working on the land use side, handling entitlements, permits and the environmental study. The scale of the project requires extensive analysis of impacts on everything from traffic to surrounding historic buildings. All of the public agencies involved will participate in the project’s environmental impact report � though Casey is also trying to streamline the approach. “We’re making sure they play some role, but not a duplicate one,” Casey said. “The key is making sure everyone sits in the room up front, understands what each party’s objectives are and makes sure those objectives stay lined up.” It’s not just the lawyers involved with the project who are excited. With Grand Avenue just blocks from Bunker Hill office buildings, it’s sparking the interest of downtown attorneys eager to see more life in the area. “Frankly, there will be more places to eat and take clients,” said Robert Philibosian, the former district attorney for Los Angeles County and now a partner at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton. “The whole atmosphere will be more festive � it will be a destination.” Any expansion in the restaurant and hotel industry is good news for a firm such as Shepard, Mullin, which handles labor and employment law, he added. For Cecilia Estolano, who is of counsel at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the most exciting part of the project is the park. Whether it’s strolling around with clients after a lunch meeting or getting some fresh air on the way back from the courthouse, a park is a much needed downtown addition, she said. “If this project really delivers on its promise to create 16 acres of public park, that will be tremendous,” Estolano said. “A lot of it is going to depend on how well the public space gets designed and what the architecture is going to look like. For it to come together, it’s going to have to be integrated with the urban fabric.” As for Whitaker, it will be a huge satisfaction seeing the project come to life, he said. “I’d always hoped we’d have a substantial residential community downtown,” he said. “This is the culmination of my 25 years of work downtown.

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