From the L.A. print issue: When tourists envision Los Angeles, they typically imagine Venice Beach, Beverly Hills mansions and the iconic Hollywood sign. Few of them think of the Downtown Los Angeles skyline. But the developers of DTLA’s tallest buildings are working hard to change that, adding sky-high amenities that simultaneously raise their profiles and their bottom lines.
The Harry Cobb-designed 1989 U.S. Bank Tower has a gleaming new 43,000-square-foot observation deck, dubbed Skyspace LA, with a first-class restaurant and a quirky amenity called the Skyslide. Since this attraction opened, in June 2016, visitors have been sliding from the building’s 70th to 69th floor, whooshing along a thick composite of Italian chemically tempered twisted glass and Chinese flat-tempered glass. On a recent afternoon visit, a reporter for The Real Deal took a ride on the Skyslide, traversing the single floor (smartphone video camera in hand) in a matter of seconds.
“L.A. is a world city, and should have the cultural amenities you see in so many cities around the world,” said John Gamboa, a senior vice president of the Singapore-based OUE, which purchased the 1,018-foot tower in 2013. “We’ve been a city where the office skyline isn’t as highly regarded as the Hollywood sign. Not anymore. The sky’s the limit!”
Not to be outdone, the developers of the Wilshire Grand Center have planned an observation deck for the building’s grand opening, which is slated for the spring of 2017. The 73-story, 1,100-foot tower will become the tallest building west of the Mississippi — stealing that title from the nearby U.S. Bank Tower.
The Wilshire Grand’s new three-floor “sky lobby” will include a 20,000-square-foot glass lobby, a 6,800-square-foot, five-star French restaurant and an 18,000-square-foot glass-walled observation deck.
“L.A. already has high-rises, but the public could never go up them and enjoy them until now,” said Chris Martin, lead architect of A.C. Martin Partners, which is designing the Korean Air-owned building.
Local politicians and developers are celebrating the fact that Los Angeles will finally have world-class sky-tourism destinations in a city long dominated by flat horizons. Yet it remains to be seen whether the new ventures will live up to the developers’ bullish expectations.
The U.S. Bank building’s new $50 million visitor center has a $25 entry fee. It costs an additional $8 to ride the Skyslide.
The Skyslide and accompanying observation deck are both operated by Legends Attractions. Owner OUE’s goal is to attract 50 million visitors a year to the observation deck by 2020.
Newer buildings will have even more options to develop their top floors. In 2014, the City of Los Angeles ended a 40-year requirement that every building more than 75 feet tall have a flat roof. But it is unclear whether there will be enough demand from tourists for every new high-rise to have its own sky-tourism attraction.
Many of the new projects include restaurants, which have the benefit of appealing to locals as well as to tourists passing through town. For example, the new addition at the U.S. Bank building includes a restaurant, 71 Above, located (where else?) on the 71st floor. There is no entrance fee to dine at the restaurant, which has an interior design aesthetic reminiscent of “Mad Men,” with 200 tinted windows and understated earth tones.
Emily Schirmer, 71 Above’s maître d’, said the restaurant, which opened in July 2016, would be an ideal place for locals to celebrate special occasions. “We want people to come here because they know they’re going to have an incredible meal with incredible service, and then say, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s this amazing view, too.’ ”
Steven Marcussen, an executive director at Cushman & Wakefield, said the “big picture” with these rooftop amenities is that they are being designed to raise the profile of the buildings and to appeal to the office tenants, as well as to the visiting public.
“We wanted to create something that uses the buzzwords ‘creative space’ truthfully,” he said of the sky lobby at the Wilshire Grand, where he is the leasing agent.
The owners of DTLA’s two tallest buildings aren’t alone in trying to grab their share of the coveted sky-tourism buck. But most of the other current options are considerably closer to earth. The 35-story Westin Bonaventure Hotel, located at 404 South Figueroa Street, has a rotating lounge on the 34th floor. The Perch rooftop bar and restaurant is on the top floor of a 15-story office building at 448 South Hill Street. Tourists on a budget can visit the 27th floor observation deck of City Hall for free.