'A bet on downtown Los Angeles.' Huge Angels Landing project wins key city OK

Victor MacFarlane and R. Donahue Peebles have devoted years to Angels Landing, a $1.6-billion hotel-housing-retail complex that would change the city skyline. The Bunker Hill development’s highest tower at 63 stories would be among L.A.'s tallest buildings.

The developers said Monday that city planning officials approved Angels Landing’s so-called entitlements to build, a major hurdle the project had to clear on the way toward completion before the 2028 Olympics.

The developers have secured environmental approvals to build, made affordable housing commitments and completed deals with labor leaders, they said — all key elements required to proceed.

Pushing forward with the project through the economic uncertainty of the pandemic reflects the developers’ expectation that the city will bounce back, Peebles said.

“This is a bet on downtown Los Angeles,” he said.

Angels Landing is set to rise on a steep, barren hillside next to the landmark Angels Flight railway, which dates to 1901 when it began carrying passengers up and down Bunker Hill.

Peebles and MacFarlane, who each have their own firms and are among the country’s best-known Black developers, won a competitive bidding process in 2017 to build a large-scale project on the site next to the historic funicular railway and a modern Metro subway stop. The pair are majority owners of Angels Landing Partners, which is responsible for building and operating Angels Landing.

Its location at Fourth and Hill streets was originally expected to hold the third office skyscraper in California Plaza, where the second of two towers was completed in 1992. By that time, however, downtown’s financial center was substantially oversupplied with offices and new development came to a halt.

The office market is still soft, but demand for housing has jumped in the last two decades as thousands of new apartments and condominiums have helped transform much of downtown from a business park into a neighborhood. The hotel market has also expanded in recent years as demand grew among people traveling for sports, entertainment and convention events downtown.

Angels Landing is to have two hotels, one in each tower. Operators have not been named yet, but developers hope one will be a four-star inn with 255 guest rooms and the other will be a five-star luxury hotel with 260 rooms.

Housing at Angels Landing, including 180 condominiums, will also be deluxe with “aspirational” prices, said MacFarlane, reflecting the high cost of high-rise construction in an urban center that includes excavation to build underground parking and the complex’s foundation on the sharp slope of Bunker Hill.

“The gradations require us to remove five stories of dirt,” he said. “That’s very expensive.”

The developers have agreed to subsidize rents for 78 units at various levels of affordability for low- to moderate-income tenants. That total is to include 13 of the 252 apartments on-site and another 65 units at a separate location in central Los Angeles yet to be selected.

MacFarlane has built two upscale apartment complexes near the Angels Landing site in recent years, including the high-rise Park Fifth Tower next to Pershing Square, which includes a rooftop swimming pool and recreation deck with skyline views. His buildings are about 95% leased, he said.

Also near Angels Landing, another mega project years in the making is nearing completion. The Grand, a $1-billion Frank Gehry-designed mixed-use complex across from Walt Disney Concert Hall, is set to open this year. It will include apartments, a hotel, restaurants and shops.

Angels Landing was designed by Handel Architects, a New York firm that specializes in large-scale urban projects and designed the National September 11 Memorial.

Angels Landing is to include a multilevel pedestrian plaza open to the public with a privately managed park.

The developers of Angels Landing said they will use union labor to build the project and that hotel employees are expected to be union members. Agreements with labor unions are in place, they said.

Next steps include completing acquisition of the site from the successor of the city Community Redevelopment Agency. The developers will also apply for public subsidies intended to spur development such as tax-exempt bond financing, hotel development incentive agreements and relief from paying some transient occupancy or “bed” taxes to the city.

“That makes the project feasible,” Peebles said.

More than 8,300 temporary jobs will be created during construction, the developers said. Upon completion, 800 people will be employed at Angels Landing, mostly in the hotels.

The developers said at least 30% of the construction work will be awarded to women- and minority-owned businesses, which they valued at more than $480 million.

“It’s about time the economic benefits generated by massive projects like this are provided to people who are reflective of the project,” MacFarlane said.

'A bet on downtown Los Angeles.' Huge Angels Landing project wins key city OK