March 24, 2017
SKY'S THE LIMIT!
Mega-developer Bill Witte wants to take you higher... and higher.
Real estate developer Bill Witte recalls driving by a housing project he developed and pointing out to his then-6-year-old daughter, saying, â€œWe developed that.â€ She quizzed him: Did he design it? No, he appointed the architect. Did he build it? No, he hired the contractors. â€œShe goes, â€˜Well, what did you do?â€™â€ Witte, 61, chuckles now. â€œA developer is kind of like the producer, putting all the pieces together.â€
As president and managing partner of Related California, an urban and multifamily housing development company, Witteâ€™s long history working on various governmental housing boards, departments, and commissions throughout the country is unique in his fieldâ€”navigating the oft-complex community processes taught him patience and nurtured in him â€œthe ability to listen, to evolve, to make things happen,â€ he says. â€œThatâ€™s stood me in very good stead, because these types of projects do not happen if you canâ€™t do that successfully.â€
Foremost on his plate is Downtownâ€™s transformative three-block Grand Avenue Project, including the completed $56 million Grand Parkâ€”â€œa huge successâ€â€”and an ambitious residential tower and retail project alongside and across the street from a planned world-class museum conceived by philanthropist Eli Broad. â€œWeâ€™re going to create a much more vibrant neighborhood,â€ says Witte. â€œYou need to give people a good reason to shop and eat and live there. The best case in each of those usesâ€”hotel, residential, and retailâ€”really pop. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.â€
Across town, luxurious residential complex Ocean Avenue South marks the first significant development in Santa Monicaâ€™s southern seaside corridor in two decades. â€œWeâ€™re really branding a neighborhood,â€ he says, noting itâ€™s already â€œbecome kind of the epicenter of coolâ€¦. This whole stretch of South Ocean Avenue was kind of neither fish nor fowlâ€”there was no there there. Yet it could at least be the central spine of this greater Civic Center area. Now the cityâ€™s building this park right across the street. You take all of this togetherâ€”even though there are no people populating this place yetâ€”and you can already see that there is a streetscape.â€
â€œLA is certainly in the forefront of cities that are constantly dealing with change,â€ adds Witte. â€œHere, people are like, â€˜Yeah, thatâ€™s okay. Be a little different. Get outside the box.â€™ This is a dynamic place.â€
Heading up the long(!)-awaited expansion of our beleaguered airport, Gina Marie Lindsey is finally making LAX an internationally worthy manifest destination.
â€œTake the analogy of the front door,â€ offers Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports since 2007, of the comprehensive modernization of Los Angeles International Airport thatâ€™s taking flight. â€œLAX, historically, was a really cutting-edge airportâ€”it was the front door of a city that has been a happening city for a long time.â€
But the worldâ€™s sixth-busiest airport hasnâ€™t seen significant upgrades since 1984, even as air travel became increasingly commonplace. â€œIf your house has a really beatup front door thatâ€™s kind of off its hinges, youâ€™re not going to feel really good about it,â€ explains Lindsey. â€œThis front door really no longer reflects what this city is all about, and that needed to change.â€
Change is definitely in the air at LAX: $4.1 billion worth of it. Airfields are getting new and reconfigured runways. â€œWeâ€™re redesigning 1960s airfields to be accommodating for todayâ€™s and tomorrowâ€™s aircraft,â€ Lindsey says, â€œas opposed to yesterdayâ€™s aircraft, which you canâ€™t find anywhere except in a museum.â€ And each terminal is slated for a comprehensive revamp. â€œPassengers are more in control of their [airport] experience today,â€ she explains, â€œso the way we lay things out needs to change.â€
Dominating Lindseyâ€™s fast track: the Tom Bradley International Terminalâ€™s nearly completed Phase 1 makeover. â€œIn our panoply of projects, thatâ€™s probably the crown jewel,â€ says Lindsey. TBIT will gain a million square feet, revamped gates to more efficiently service increasingly supersized jets, a swooping ocean wavestyle roof, copious natural lighting, a 100 foot elevator tower boasting LED screens, and a mammoth Great Hall of chic retail and restaurant space managed by Westfield and partner DFS. Lindsey posits that now often arduous passages through checkin, security, and baggage claim may ideally become â€œso invisible to the passenger that we could recapture the excitement and thrill of travel.â€
She admits that due to the reality of â€œneeding to push 63 million people through this place at the same time we are trying to completely rebuild itâ€¦. Anyone working on trying to make this kind of change needs to be a risk taker. If this was easy, it might not be as rewarding.â€
Those rewards, she expects, will be felt around the world, but especially by the travelers here at home. â€œIf we can make this a stunning, welcoming front door, it will help the city feel even better about itself.â€
THE TROJAN'S WARRIOR
Forget Harvard and Stanford. Spearheading a herculean $6 billion fundraising effort, Max Nikias plans to make University of Southern California a â€œshining cityâ€ within a city.
Itâ€™s a lofty goal: University of Southern California President C.L. Max Nikias envisions the school becoming as integral to charting the future and fortunes of the emerging Pacific Rim as the University of Oxford was to the British Commonwealth more than a century ago. â€œUSC is strategically positioned and has the potential to play a similar role in the 21st century,â€ says Nikias, 60, with conviction. â€œI donâ€™t believe that you can point to any other university that actually has the momentum that we do.â€
Nikias has experience with ambitious visions. Three years ago he spearheaded the biggest fundraising initiative in the schoolâ€™s historyâ€”and the largest goal ever attempted by an American universityâ€”a transformative $6 billion by 2018 intended to propel USC into an even more elite academic strata, including an expansive complement of new buildings (health sciences, social sciences, medical, and a new school of dance, among them) and a radical makeover of what will be known as USC Village.
Hereâ€™s the thing: Even in economically rocky times, with an expected $3 billion raised by summerâ€™s end, USC is already halfway home (Dr. Dre and music producer Jimmy Iovine just gave $70 million earlier this summer). â€œNo other university has ever achieved that, which is a testament to the Trojan family,â€ Nikias says. â€œI have no illusions that raising the next $3 billion may be harderâ€”but we are prepared for it. This last leg of the journey to get us into the pantheon of undisputed lead universities is the steepest, the hardest, and the most expensive.â€
Expect USCâ€™s metamorphosis to have a sweeping effect on the city, the region, and especially the landscape of Downtown LA, to which the evolving school will remain as inextricably connected as it has since its founding in 1880. â€œWe are an urban university campus,â€ Nikias says. â€œWeâ€™re going to be here for many centuries to come. I want the two USC campuses to be really beautiful, to look like this little forest of green in Downtown LA.â€
â€œI felt the moment I became president that all my prior experiences prepared me for this,â€ says the Cyprus-born, 22-year veteran of leadership positions at the school, who has two USC-grad daughters. â€œWhen I get up in the morning I feel that whatever I do eventually will make a differenceâ€”and not just to our students or our faculty, not just to the surrounding area. Hopefully, it will benefit the [entire] city of LA one way or another. Itâ€™s a good, warm feeling.â€
ARCHES OF TRIUMPH
An appropriately heroic gateway to the eternal city of LA, architect Michael Maltzanâ€™s Sixth Street Viaduct will be a marvel of modernday design.
â€œI believe in this city,â€ says architect Michael Maltzan of the Los Angeles heâ€™s been integral in transforming, â€œfor everything it is, both good and bad. I have an extraordinary optimism and belief in the reality of Los Angeles as a unique and extraordinary version of what it means to be a city in contemporary terms.â€
Having already contributed several significant works to the changing face of LA, from large private homes to socially ambitious housing for the formerly homelessâ€”â€œThe ambition for every one of them was that they were trying to say something progressive about the cityâ€â€”Maltzan, 53, has a slate of genuine game changers ahead, contributing to an exciting cumulative effect on the local map. â€œAll of them together hopefully do relate to a series of ideas about how the city is evolving.â€
The design teamâ€”Michael Maltzan Architecture, HNTB, Hargreaves Associates, and A.C. Martin Partnersâ€”will make over the Sixth Street Viaduct for the City of Los Angeles, Bureau of Engineering with a design that will dramatically transform the iconic, noir-ish bridge into a sleek, swooping futuristic structure, radically advancing the way LA moves both vehicles and people. â€œIf thereâ€™s one form that characterizes Los Angeles, maybe more than any other form in the city, itâ€™s infrastructure,â€ he says, â€œand we have an opportunity to represent, to build what that new version of infrastructure might look like.â€
And One Santa Fe, the marquis mixed-use development also designed by Maltzan, reconfigures the adjoining dormant Downtown industrial area into an epicenter for the emerging Arts District, says the architect, â€œa more vital, vibrant, intense amplification of the life that has taken place there, creating a sense of permanence and dynamism for that neighborhood.â€ Heâ€™ll also have a hand in modifying Piggyback Yardâ€™s 125 river-adjacent acres into a lush city center and rail hub. â€œI canâ€™t think of another project that would have a greater effect on the way the city sees itself, thinks about itself, and comes together.â€
â€œChange in the city is a reality,â€ Maltzan explains, citing LAâ€™s perpetually dynamic structural fluidity as one of the principal lures that led him and his wife to â€œbeelineâ€ here immediately upon graduating from Harvard University in 1988. â€œIt continues to reinvent itself, and that is leading right now to a new iteration of Los Angelesâ€¦. Seeing that in its nascent form, at the very beginning, is as exciting a thing as I can imagine for an architect.â€
THE GREAT AMERICANA DREAM
LAâ€™s gold-rush pioneer, real estate-cum-retail titan Rick Caruso is building anewâ€”a legacy of philanthropy.
â€œWhen somebody calls and says thereâ€™s this cause that can make a big difference in a familyâ€™s life,â€ says billionaire real estate developer Rick J. Caruso, â€œIâ€™m inâ€”and Iâ€™m all in.â€
As founder and CEO of Caruso Affiliated, Carusoâ€™s certainly transformed the local landscape with destination shopping centers like The Grove and The Americana at Brand, or the luxurious retail/residential complex 8500, but by funneling the prodigious profits of his landmark projects into philanthropy, heâ€™s also transforming the lives of people in need. â€œI like the fact that theyâ€™re all connected,â€ he says, â€œbecause I couldnâ€™t do one without the other.
â€œWe have the ability to not only just cut a check, but get actively involved,â€ says Caruso, 54, of the philanthropic pursuits he pursues alongside wife Tina and their four children. â€œEverything is really focused on children who could not otherwise get a good education or have access to good healthcare.â€ Beneficiaries have included Para Los NiÃ±os, Childrenâ€™s Hospital Los Angeles, the Caruso Catholic Center at USC, and St. Lawrence of Brindisi Catholic School in Watts, where the Caruso Family Foundation provides academic scholarships, after-school program support, and mentoring to some of the cityâ€™s most at-risk children.
â€œWe know the people whom we help, and we see the difference in their families,â€ he says of his largely hands-on approach, which in turn affects his own clan: allowing a young girl battling brain cancer and her family to live on one of his properties rent-free â€œmade us a better familyâ€”my daughter is very close friends with that girl.â€
Caruso says he finds similar rewards from the more literal mark heâ€™s left on the city he was born and reared in. â€œThereâ€™s a great satisfaction when I run into people and they tell me they love The Grove or The Americana,â€ he says. â€œAs optimistic as I am, I donâ€™t think I was ever expecting the success of The Grove, that it [would] become part of the vocabulary of Los Angeles so quickly and continue to be one of the really great locations in LA.â€
Carusoâ€™s passion runs deep for building stronger communal ties in isolating, mobility-challenged LA through his projects, even when naysayers arise. â€œI love when somebody tells me what I canâ€™t do, because I just donâ€™t believe in that,â€ he says. â€œI believe thereâ€™s a solution for every problem. There is always a path to success, and thatâ€™s the way we approach everything, whether itâ€™s our philanthropic efforts or our business efforts.â€
photography by Brad Swonetz