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News

A Half-Billion Dollar Baby

Kenton Hanson

CRA Approves Plan to Build Three Towers and 875 Condominiums Near Financial District

Source :: ladowntownnews.com
Date :: June 24, 2006 

by Kathleen Nye Flynn

A 38-story tower, 875 condominiums and a public paseo lined with stores are just part of the plan for a proposed $500 million, three-phase project that would fill an empty lot at Eighth Street and Grand Avenue.

Beverly Hills-based developer Sonny Astani, who has already broken ground on one major Downtown project, received the Community Redevelopment Agency's go-ahead for the massive development on June 15. The project now heads to City Council, which is expected to vote on it in early July. If the council gives the thumbs-up, Astani hopes to break ground within 18 months.

Developer Sonny Astani plans to build three condominium towers on the lot at Eighth Street and Grand Avenue. The $500 million project will include a public paseo. Rendering by AVRP.

Developer Sonny Astani plans to build three condominium towers on the lot at Eighth Street and Grand Avenue. The $500 million project will include a public paseo. Rendering by AVRP.

"Not every project in Downtown happens," Hamid Behdad, a representative of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said at the meeting. "But this one is real."

The project would represent a huge investment in the southern portion of the Financial District, creating more than 1 million square feet of housing and nearly 1,500 parking spaces. It would fill a lot between Grand and Olive on the north side of Eighth Street and consist of three structures.

The first stage of construction would deliver a pair of 15-story buildings with a total of 425 units wrapping around an elevated courtyard. According to documents filed with the CRA, there would be 245 one-bedroom condominiums, with the remainder being two-bedroom units. The structure would hold 1,115 parking spaces (including three underground levels) and have retail on the ground floor.

The second stage, which would break ground after the first phase is complete, would be a 22-story mid-rise that opens to Olive Street. The 180-unit building would feature 40 one-bedroom and 140 two-bedroom condos. It would also have ground floor retail and three underground parking levels. 

The final phase would be the 38-story high-rise. It would create 270 units (the majority two-bedroom residences) along with 7,200 square feet of ground floor retail and amenities and three levels of subterranean parking.

The documents filed with the CRA also reveal that the project will feature sustainable design elements. Altogether, plans call for 36,000 square feet of retail and a 31,000-square-foot courtyard.

On the north end of the block, facing Seventh Street, developers are working on turning the Brockman Building into 80 condominiums (an effort to transform the adjacent Coulter and Mandell buildings into apartments appears to have stalled). A public walkway will cut through the new compound, connecting Grand and Olive and featuring shops and restaurants. 

"We are extremely happy with the retail going in," said Victor Franco, vice president of government affairs for the Central City Association, who noted that the walkway would break up the block and help activate street life. "The retail is not just for those who live there. It will serve everybody in the area." 

Renderings by architecture firm AVRP show a contemporary glass and steel tower. In the designs, balconies undulate over the glass walls of the mid-rise buildings, which flank a curving, all-glass tower. 

Darryl Yamamoto, design principal of the project, said the firm is also including elements that reference the historical buildings around the site. 

"We tried to align the base, middle and top of the building with classical design to match the buildings around us," Yamamoto told the CRA board of commissioners.

Surrounding Community

The site has been a parking lot for decades. It is near several new Downtown Los Angeles residential developments, including the Sky Lofts at 801 S. Grand Ave., and the under-construction Market Lofts and Ralphs supermarket rising at Ninth and Flower streets. The Los Angeles Athletic Club, Pershing Square, numerous restaurants and bars including the thriving Roy's on Figueroa Street, and a Red Line stop are all within walking distance.

"If you compare this to other projects being built, urbanistically, the community is already there," Astani said. 

Astani is pursuing private funding for the project, meaning no affordable housing units are required. However, the developer pledged to contribute $1.5 million to the Skid Row Housing Trust to help the non-profit organization pay for two new low-income housing projects.

"This gives us a great opportunity and a lot of certainty that we can move forward with these projects as scheduled," said Mike Alvidrez, executive director of the Skid Row Housing Trust. 

The trust is heading the development of two SRO buildings, the 76-unit Cobb Apartments and the 115-unit Abbey Apartments on San Pedro Street. Alvidrez said the trust needs $1.5 million to complete the facilities, which will house chronically ill homeless people and feature enriched services. 

Astani said he wanted to donate money to an organization where he could see direct results, and will write the check as soon as he reaches an agreement with the city. 

"Some developers say, 'Okay, I'll give them money when I get my building permit, which could be a year away," Astani said. "This way, even if it takes 18 months to get construction started on my project, these two other projects will already be completed." 

The budget calls for $5 million to be spent on artwork, part of the city requirement that 1% of a development's cost goes to public art. Astani said he would also fund the planting of 129 trees within a half-mile of the site. This is in addition to the 89 trees that will be within the project grounds.

"Mr. Astani has a track record of great projects and does a great job contributing to the area," said Franco. "This sends a message to other developers if they want to go this route." 

Pacific Atlas Development Corp. bought the property in 1990 and received city approvals to develop two office towers, an open-air plaza and a hotel. But after the downturn in the economy in the early 1990s, the project was shelved. In 2005, Astani bought the 129,000-square-foot lot for a reported $38 million. 

Astani is responsible for about 5,000 units in Los Angeles, including the Concerto, which broke ground last month at the corner of Ninth and Figueroa streets. That project, which took two years to make its way through the city approval process, is scheduled to open in 2008. The Concerto will offer two 27-story residential towers and one five-story mixed-use building, creating a total of 619 units, along with 27,500 square feet of retail and a 2,510-square-foot park. 

Another Astani project, at Wilshire and Bixel in City West, will hold 200 units, 30 of them priced as affordable housing. The development is under construction and occupancy is scheduled for the fall. 

Altogether, Astani is working on plans to create nearly 1,700 units in Downtown, making him one of the area's biggest developers. 

"If buildings don't get built," he said, "the city loses money and jobs, and homeowners stay renters." 

Kathleen Nye Flynn at kathleen@downtownnews.com.

Astani's 8th & Grand Project Approved

Kenton Hanson

Source :: CCA | Delivers
Central City Association of Los Angeles
Date :: June 16, 2006 

On Thursday, the CRA board approved plans for 8th & Grand - a master planned, 875 unit condominium project complete with ground floor retail space, a paseo, landscaped pedestrian mall, fitness center, and roof-deck recreation. CCA member Astani Enterprises is developing the project, which will change the corner of 8th and Grand into a vital residential and retail center. 

CCA's Victor Franco, Jr. advocated for the project, noting its immense benefits for the Downtown community, including a $1.5 million contribution to the Skid Row Housing Trust. The Board voted unanimously in support. CCA congratulates Astani Enterprises and looks forward to 8th & Grand's completion.

Sonny Astani Receives Distinguished Alumnus Award

Kenton Hanson

Epstein Department makes its first distinguished alumnus award

Source :: USC Viterbi
Date :: May 04, 2006 

The USC Viterbi School’s Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering has awarded its first-ever Distinguished Alumnus Award to Sonny H. Astani, a Beverly Hills real estate developer.

Prof. Najmedin Meshkati with Sonny H. Astani who received the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering first Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Prof. Najmedin Meshkati with Sonny H. Astani who received the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering first Distinguished Alumnus Award.

"We established this new award to commemorate the 100 years of engineering at USC,” said James Moore, chair of the Epstein Department. “Sonny Astani has been involved in the acquisition, development, construction and management of over a billion dollars in apartment buildings and condominiums in Los Angeles. He’s known for quality designs with each of his projects offering a unique relationship between the structure and its existing environment. There is a genuine engagement with the surrounding community. He has built a name synonymous with thoughtful architecture, contemporary sophistication and world-class development.”

Astani, chairman of Astani Enterprises, Inc., headquartered in Beverly Hills, California, received his M.S. degree in industrial and systems engineering from USC in 1978. His firm owns or operates approximately 4,000 apartment units throughout Southern California and is currently developing approximately 2,000 units of condominiums and lofts in downtown Los Angeles with a total value in excess of $500 million. 

These include the Concerto, a mixed-use development that consists of two residential towers and one mid-rise residential loft building with 27,000 square feet of two- and three-bedroom units on 27 floors; the Vero project at 1234 Wilshire Blvd., and the high-rise living project at 8th and Grand.

An Iranian immigrant, Astani serves on the Executive Committee of the Central City Association, on the Board of Counselors of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and on the Leadership Council for USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate Development. He is also a member of the Pacific Council for International Affairs and a regular lecturer in the UCLA Extension program.

A resident of Pacific Palisades, Mr. Astani is married with three children and is part of a diverse immediate family with ties to 10 nations. His hobbies include yoga, cycling, swimming Karate and Tai Chi, in which he holds a 2nd degree black belt. He is currently the chairman of the Tenshin-Kai Tai Chi & Karate in Culver City with branches in the U.S. and Japan.

Developers paying up for raw land in Downtown LA

Kenton Hanson

PRICES refuse to cool off for developable downtown Los Angeles lots.

Source :: Los Angeles Business Journal, By Andy Fixmer
Date :: Jan 10, 2005 

Astani Enterprises Inc. and Hanover Financial Co. are paying top dollar for parcels on which they plan to build large condominium and apartment projects, respectively.

Hanover Financial has agreed to pay $7.8 million for a 17,500 square foot parcel held by Anschutz Entertainment Group. It plans to build a 175-unit, 26-story luxury apartment building at the northwest corner of Olympic Boulevard and Figueroa Street.

At nearly $450 a foot, Hanover, which is backed by Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., is paying some of the highest per-square-foot rates for undeveloped downtown land.

While plans for the apartment building have been previously reported, the deal for the land was only recently struck. The sale is expected to close by mid-year, sources said.

Meanwhile, Beverly Hills-based real estate investment firm Astani Enterprises has agreed to pay Thermo Cos. $38 million for a 129,000-square-foot parking lot bounded by Seventh and Eighth streets and Grand Avenue and Olive Street, according to sources close to the deal.

The firm's principal, Sonny Astani, is paying nearly $295 a foot for the land. The price closely matches the $30 million Astani paid in September for a 100,000-square-foot parking lot at the southwest corner of Figueroa and Eighth streets.

As with the earlier purchase, Astani is planning to entitle the land for a condominium project of an unspecified size, the sources said.

At the Figueroa Street lot, Astani plans a $140 million project containing two condo towers.

Calls to Astani weren't returned.

Staff reporter Andy Fixmer can be reached by phone at 323 549 5225. ext. 263, or by e-mail at afixmer@labusinessjournal.com.

LA Style: Inside Design and Out

Kenton Hanson

Source :: Tim Street-Porter
Date :: 2005

In the Environmental wasteland of recent construction that is the Hollywood of today, with its host of redundant corner malls and wall-to-wall condominiums on what were once quiet, airy residential streets, any new development of architectural interest is unexpected and welcome. 

The 828 North Hudson Avenue condominiums successfully revive the spirit of Hollywood buildings of the 1920s, particularly the fantasy courtyard apartments that represent the best attitudes of a city whose destiny and purpose were tellingly expressed in a legacy of innovative architecture.

These condos have also been successful in other ways: The developer Sonny Astani of Astani Enterprises, was able to sell all 25 units in a single afternoon session, and the new owners are a happy group of enthusiasts with nothing but praise for the project. 

The complex was designed by architectural consultant Simon Miller, who met Astani a few years ago. Astani had already built seven condominium buildings in the vicinity of Hollywood and had become disenchanted with the results.

"I never liked those buildings," says Astani. "Simon was very critical about them also and had a good understanding of people and the environment, things I hadn't though about much."  Plans had already been produced for the Hudson Avenue project, but Astani, concerned that in an increasingly saturated market his project might not sell, hired Miller to redesign the complex.

Miller opted for cosmetic changes. The old condo formula of putting all the money into limited areas such as marble counters, French tiles and expensive paint finishes was discarded. Instead, the whole complex was designed to seduce with playful thematic effects.

From the street, the building rises fortresslike, fringed by tropical landscaping, and is surmounted by a Casbah-inspired tower. A fountain, placed next to the entrance, screens out peripheral traffic noise. The tiled courtyard, reached by a flight of steps and an ornamental iron gateway, creates an other-worldly ambiance, which is heightened by warm colors, decorative tile work and suggestions of an Moroccan village. Inside, there are high-beamed ceilings, attractive windows of stained wood, and arches for door openings.

The result is an environment with a well defined theme, inspiring pride of possession similar to that felt by those fortunate enough to own 1920s landmark Hollywood apartments, and demonstrating what can be done with imagination and a developer who cares.

Developer Astani Enterprises Plans to Build Condominiums and Shops on the Downtown Los Angeles Parcel

Kenton Hanson

Source :: Los Angeles Times
Date :: September 14, 2004 

Astani Enterprieses, Inc., a Beverly Hills developer, paid $30 million Monday for a parking lot in downtown Los Angeles where it intends to build condominium towers, shops and a restaurant. 

Astani Enterprises Inc. bought the 100,000-square-foot parcel at the southeast corner of Figueroa and 9th streets from Equitable Life Assurance Society. 

The developer paid $300 a square foot for the property, which makes it one of the most expensive land sales in the central business district. Land there traded for about $150 a square foot two years ago. 

"The demand for downtown sites remains insatiable," said real estate broker Carl Muhlstein of Cushman & Wakefield, who represented the seller with his partner, Richard Plummer. 

Construction should start within a year on the first of two high-rises, said Astani President Sonny Astani, who plans to build 400 units in a 15-story tower and a 25-story tower. The project will cost about $140 million. 

The taller tower will face Figueroa and is set to go up first. 

"I'm going to spend the money to make it a signature building," said Astani, who hopes to have it designed in the style of Italian architect Renzo Piano. Piano, who uses a lot of glass in his buildings, has been selected to design a structure for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 

The downtown development, which is kitty-corner from the venerable Original Pantry diner, will include a restaurant and perhaps an upscale health club, Astani said. Two-bedroom, two-bath condos are expected to sell for $500,000 or less. 

Astani also plans to build the $50-million Verona at Wilshire apartment complex on Wilshire Boulevard west of the Harbor Freeway, between Lucas Avenue and Witmer Street. Construction of the six-story tower with 234 units above street-level shops is scheduled to begin next month. 

Astani, who has developed well over 2,000 apartments and condominiums in Los Angeles, said rising land costs downtown and in other densely developed parts of the city would require residential builders to put up high-rise condominiums to recoup their costs. 

"The days of building courtyard garden apartments are over," he said.

Astani also is chairman of West Coast operations for Lambert Smith Hampton, a British engineering and construction firm.