Wednesday, February 23

2011 Downtowners Of Distinction Awards

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure and honor of attending the 2011 Downtowners of Distinction Awards.  This was my first year to attend and I had no idea as to what to expect.  To be perfectly honest, in anticipation of going I was most looking forward to seeing the inside of the Los Angeles Athletic Club.  I am happy to say that though it was an amazing building to see, it was not the highlight of the evening.  

This event was packed with all the who's who in Downtown LA.  The people that build our city, the ones that inspire our spirit and a lot of people that show their support day in and day out.  The whole thing was put on by the Downtown News and I must take my hat off to them, they know how to throw an awards reception!  The food was fantastic, the drinks flowed and the mingling was perfect.  I was so pleased to get to catch up with the people I know but so rarely see and very happy to meet some new fantastic people.

After just the right amount of social time it was onto the awards.  I have to say, I was inspired and proud of everyone accepting their honors.  It is nice to be reminded that Downtown is young and this growing and developing city has so much potential and there are some amazing people bringing innovative ideas to the table to continue it's growth and development.  Last night really opened my eyes to all the work that is going into the rebuilding of this city.  It also opened my eyes to what a special community we have and how supportive we all can be of one another.

I would like to say congratulations to all the winners, you represent us well and we appreciate your commitment and hard work!
Following, in alphabetical order by district, are this year’s Downtowners of Distinction winners and a brief explanation of why they were selected.

Arts District

Factory Place Arts Complex

When developer Howard Klein opened the $10 million Factory Place Arts Complex, he was mixing the new with the very old. The collection of 51 apartments at 1291-1333 E. Sixth St. activated an off-the-beaten track portion of the Arts District, and gave new life to a batch of buildings whose history dates to the early 20th century. Factory Place was one of the few housing projects to debut in the Arts District during 2010, and its open space and communal aspects provide a comfortable feel in a community still known more for creative life behind closed doors. The project provides a new opportunity in city living, and creates a new batch of patrons for area businesses and restaurants.

Central City East

Central City Recovery Zone

In April, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich announced the Central City Recovery Zone, a groundbreaking effort to crack down on drug dealers in Skid Row. In this new approach to a troubling and complicated issue, Trutanich sought to put into effect an injunction that would prevent known dealers from coming into the community, reasoning that people on the list — most of whom hail from outside Downtown — are preying on and exploiting addicts by selling crack, heroin and other drugs. The effort required months of prep work, but it paid off: In November, a judge approved the first part of the injunction. In fact, the widely praised move had an impact long before the judge’s OK: Shortly after Trutanich’s announcement, many of the dealers felt the heat and fled the area.


Chinatown Summer Nights

Chinatown stakeholders have long sought to raise the community’s profile and lure new customers and restaurant patrons. During August, they did just that. Every Saturday night for a month, the Summer Nights Program filled Central and West plazas with DJs, food trucks, art programs, cooking lessons and more. The streets were alive until midnight and crowds came, everyone from swing dancing couples to families pushing strollers. Though limited in terms of time, the effort, launched with the help of the Community Redevelopment Agency, reminded people of all that Chinatown has to offer, and laid the groundwork for visitors to return throughout the year.

Figueroa Corridor (Tie)

California Science Center Expansion/

University Gateway

The March opening of Ecosystems, an exhibit that is part of the California Science Center’s $165 million expansion, did exactly what it was supposed to do: It made science cool. But it had a greater effect: It injected new life into the Exposition Park museum. The institution’s 170,000-square-foot expansion is expected to boost attendance by about 25%. The upgrades are first class, with eight zones exploring different parts of the planet, including a 188,000-gallon aquarium that thrills kids. Bringing more field trips and families to the museum also increases attention on the other cultural resources in Exposition Park.

The housing complex University Gateway reaches a different kind of student — those in college. Developer Urban Partners opened the long-awaited project in August, providing 400 units and 1,600 beds to an area that is vastly underserved in terms of student housing. The $200 million development, which includes more than 80,000 square feet of retail space, instantly changed the northern entryway to USC. It also adds another anchor to the southern tip of the Figueroa Corridor, and increases the connectivity with the heart of Downtown. This project was complicated from the beginning, but Urban Partners never backed down, even when legal hurdles pushed construction back several years.

Financial District

Three Charity/Community Events:

Stair Climb to the Top

Hope for Firefighters

Public Safety Appreciation BBQ

Downtown’s concentration of businesses has long made the area a hub for philanthropy and community events. Three especially stand out by engaging the neighborhood and aiding worthy causes. Every September, the Ketchum Downtown YMCA stages the Stair Climb to the Top. It brings thousands of people to U.S. Bank Tower, where they try to climb the 1,500 steps in the tallest building west of the Mississippi. It’s exhausting (the slogan is “Elevators Are for Wimps”), but all that stepping pays off: The 2010 event, the 17th in the series, raised $340,000 for local youth and teen programs.

Also drawing crowds is June’s Hope for Firefighters, which raises money for the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association’s Widows, Orphans and Disabled Firemen’s Fund. The gathering — 2010 marked the 13th installment — annually generates about $125,000. It does so in a fun way, as area businesses take part in traditional firefighter muster games — picture attorneys trying to handle a fire hose — while others among the crowd of 15,000 sample the chili, tri-tip and other culinary offerings prepared by participating fire houses.

Also paying heed to firefighters, and many others who take risks to help Angelenos, is the L.A. County Public Safety Officers Annual Appreciation Barbecue. The 11-year-old event organized by the Downtown Center Business Improvement District takes place in October and gives firefighters, LAPD and Sheriff’s Department employees (and other county public safety workers) something everyone wants: a free, hearty lunch. The rest of the population pays, with funds going to the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation, which supports families who experience financial difficulty due to death, injury or illness.

Historic Core


Many gasped a few years ago when developer Saeed Farkhondepour halted construction on the Medall­ion. Fortunately, that was only a blip, and in August Farkhondepour introduced the complex that has changed the look and feel of the northern part of the Historic Core. With 96 apartments and more than 200 retail spaces, the project extends the residential momentum of the Old Bank District while also connecting to the Toy District and the Civic Center. The $125 million development on Fourth Street between Main and Los Angeles streets not only has homes and businesses, but also offers a plaza for community events and something rarely seen in the Historic Core: green grass.

Little Tokyo

Lazy Ox Canteen

Many restaurants have opened in Downtown in recent years, with mixed results. One unquestioned hit is the Lazy Ox Canteen. The restaurant at 241 S. San Pedro St., on the ground floor of the Sakura Crossing apartment complex, has been praised by, well, almost everyone. Chef Josef Centeno’s small plates menu features unusual, inventive and downright delicious offerings such as pig’s ear, caramelized cauliflower and even lamb’s neck hash. The crowds swarm — the casual joint with oversized light bulbs and plenty of wines by the glass was packed at 6:15 on a recent Sunday evening. The establishment from owner Michael Cardenas brings foodies to Little Tokyo, and once they finish a meal (or while waiting for it), they have a chance to take in the charms of the neighborhood.

Seventh Street Corridor

Emergence of Restaurant Row

Call it the Bottega Louie effect: The debut two years ago of the loud, cavernous restaurant has opened the culinary floodgates on Seventh Street, helping the corridor reach its long-desired potential of becoming Downtown’s “restaurant row.” The idea was proffered several years ago by the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, but only came into its own in the past year or so. New additions include the heralded sushi establishment Sugarfish, up-market Thai emporium Soi 7, and the instantly popular Mexican eatery Mas Malo (shown here). The action creates jobs, generates tax revenue and, more than anything else, makes this stretch come alive seven nights a week.

South Park

Ritz-Carlton/J.W. Marriott Hotel

It is difficult to overestimate the impact that the $900 million project developed by Anschutz Entertainment Group has had on Downtown. The 54-story edifice has changed the community’s skyline, and the 1,001 hotel rooms have kick-started the city’s stalled convention business, luring lucrative business gatherings that L.A. was previously incapable of securing. It is actually two hotels in one: An 878-room J.W. Marriott opened in February, and the 123-room Ritz-Carlton debuted a few weeks later. The project at L.A. Live provides customers for the theaters and restaurants at that complex, but also funnels people to businesses all across Downtown.

For more information on the Awards, bark on the link:  Bark!