It’s easy to get blinded at L.A. Live, the glitzy entertainment complex in the heart of LA’s downtown. There are sky-high banners, dueling strobe lights, giant advertising signs and flashy promos. Everywhere you look there’s enough stimuli to power an electric substation.
The complex includes a 14-screen multiplex, a sports arena with three tiers of suites, enough restaurants to feed a ravenous army, a 1000-room hotel and a revived convention center.
The 23-acre site once was under-utilized land, a scary part of town where no one walked alone at night. Now thanks to can-do vision and a slew of public/private partnerships, L. A. Live is a people magnet, drawing stars and average Joes alike from all over the vast urban area. The Staples Center, L.A. Live’s giant sports complex, covers three acres and hosts everything from the Lakers basketball team to Rihanna concerts.
The visit to L. A. Live was one of the highlights of the 2013 Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Study Mission. For over 25 years, the chamber and the City of Seattle have partnered on an annual visit to a North American city to learn best practices and challenge traditional thinking.
L. A. Live certainly qualifies for the latter – it’s definitely an outside the ballpark experience. It’s obvious that those who would build a new arena in SODO are thinking in a similar vein, although it’s difficult to imagine that such an over-the-top complex could be replicated in Seattle. For starters, the Mariners’ Bart Waldman grimaces over the news that the LA Live area boasts 35,000 parking spaces within a 10-minute walk. Says Bart, “Not even in half-an-hour’s walk do we have 4,000 spaces.”
Although entertainment glitz was part of the three-day visit, it was scarcely the only L. A. experience. The trip started with a visit to L.A.’s 26-story City Hall, which has played a starring role in crime dramas such as Dragnet, Perry Mason and L. A. Confidential. While there, the Seattle delegation enjoyed the view from the observation deck and met Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and heard how Los Angeles is working to accelerate economic activity and invest in transit and highway projects.
A deputy police chief highlighted positive changes in the aftermath of the Department of Justice’s “consent decree” and subsequent work with the Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor now overseeing Seattle’s DOJ settlement. In the last eight years, Los Angeles has seen a significant decline in violent crime. The police force has added 1,000 new officers and has a strong focus on community policing. To hear the deputy chief tell it, most Angelinos are engaged in Neighborhood Watch programs.
Another major focus of the Seattle mission was education reform. Our speaker at the second morning’s breakfast at the historic Biltmore Hotel, scene of early Academy Awards ceremonies, was Dr. John Deasy, former education leader at the Gates Foundation and now superintendent of the largest public school district in the country. Dr. Deasy’s district serves 640,000 students at 900 schools and 187 charter schools.
Deasy described his vision in working to ensure that all students succeed, a dream that he hopes can be realized now that California Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30, a $6 billion annual tax to save underfinanced public schools, passed in November with 54 percent of the vote.
Later on, we visited KIPP L. A. Preparatory, a tuition-free, college-prep charter middle school, which opened in 2003 and serves grades five through eight. Students attend classes from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. three days a week and from 7:30 to 1:30 two days a week, spending their afternoons preparing for college. There is also an extended school year with classes into the summer months.
The Seattle mission at times seemed a forced march to gain as much knowledge about the region as possible in a limited time. Highlights included a tour through American Apparel, one of L.A.’s fashion houses. Style changes happen so quickly that the apparel industry has started to moved production back from China to the U.S.
Also on the program was a boat tour of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, fifth busiest container hub in the world. The ports are investing nearly $6 billion in upgrades to keep the roughly 40% share of Asian import trade that they handle. The ports recent emphasis has been on larger and cleaner ships and clean technology.
So, Does L. A. do better than Seattle? Certainly the region and its industries are worthy competitors. And it would not be surprising to find that many of the lessons learned on the 2013 Study Mission in La La Land will be fueling future innovations in Latte Land.