With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts’ Mayors’ Institute on City Design 25th Anniversary Initiative received in 2009, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA/LA) launched the planning stages for the “Broadway Arts Center” (BAC).
Envisioned as a mixed-use affordable artists’ housing, performance/exhibition space, educational facility, and creative commercial center, and located in the Historic Broadway Theater District in downtown Los Angeles, the birthplace of vaudeville and cinema in the city, the BAC has been embraced by city government and the arts community alike.
In spite of its rich history and tremendous future potential, Broadway is currently viewed as not meeting its potential in a number of different ways. Broadway bustles during the day, but merchants are struggling with a 15–20 percent ground floor vacancy rate. This ground floor struggle is made worse when viewed in the context of more than a million square feet of vacant space in the upper floors along Broadway.
And while some theatres have been reactivated, most of the glorious historic theaters do not offer regular entertainment programming, and Broadway doesn’t serve the needs of the diverse downtown community—especially at night. DCA/LA strongly believes that this situation will quickly turn around when a cadre of artists, professors, and college students, living and working in the area, make Downtown their home.
Nonprofit partners include The Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation, a service organization dedicated to creating affordable housing for performing arts professionals; Artspace, the country’s premier organization dedicated to developing affordable spaces for artists and arts organizations; Local Initiative Support Corporation, an organization dedicated to helping nonprofit community development organizations transform neighborhoods; and the California Institute for the Arts (CalArts), an award-winning higher education institution dedicated to training and nurturing the next generation of professional artists.
Additional input is being provided by the City of Los Angeles Housing Department as well as the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles Chapter (AIA/LA), and other public and private agencies.
After conducting extensive research, project leaders realized that the demand for affordable artists housing, live/work space, retail space for creative businesses and administrative, performance, and exhibition space for nonprofit arts organizations, as well as the desire for CalArts to expand its reach to Downtown L.A., far exceeded what one building could accommodate.
To that end, the project is now being envisioned as the Broadway Cultural Quarter, with the Broadway Arts Center mixed use development and a campus for the MFA program of CalArts’ Theater School serving as the two anchors. The Broadway Cultural Quarter will be the result of an over-arching visionary design by Pritzker Prize winning architect, Thom Mayne, and his Morphosis Architects group.
For this new, expanded vision, the Department of Cultural Affairs was recently awarded a prestigious $470,000 grant from ArtPlace, while MusiCares has just announced an additional grant of $100,000. Further, Artspace and the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation have created a Limited Liability Corporation, the BAC LLC, to be the developers of the Broadway Arts Center.
The BAC LLC will be able to leverage the ArtPlace investment, together with other project funding, to purchase property for the BAC, as well as finance the construction, and create an operating and capital reserve that will preserve the affordability of the artist spaces for a minimum of 50 years (considered long-term affordability). The grants received to date, which total $670,000, will result in a total BAC project budget of $75 million, and will it also be a catalyst in the creation of the CalArts MFA Theater Campus.
The prognosis for the economic impact of Thom Mayne/Morphosis’ design, a visionary, art-focused, yet neighborhood-grounded plan, the goal of which is to build a community that is attractive to future arts and cultural projects as well as creative businesses, is difficult to quantify currently. However, the design will undoubtedly be catalytic and attract millions more in future development that would have both immediate and far-reaching effects.