Thomas Feng, CEO of Oceanwide Plaza, on DTLA, Chinese buyers and the LA lifestyle

He is leading the subsidiary of Beijing's Oceanwide Holdings in its 500-condo, hotel and retail development

Feb.February 01, 2017 03:57 PM
Oceanwide Plaza rendering, Thomas Feng (Oceanwide Plaza)

Beijing developer Oceanwide Holdings Company’s $1 billion mega-development in Downtown Los Angeles is rising swiftly from ground. The three-structure Oceanwide Plaza project, which is the company’s first North American project, is on track to be completed in early 2019.

The South Park mixed-user is one of the largest under construction in the county, with 504 condos, 166,000 square feet of retail space and a 184-key Park Hyatt hotel.

Every nook and cranny of it falls under the purview of Thomas Feng, chief executive of Oceanwide Plaza. Feng, whose specialty is urban planning, dove into the real estate world more than 20 years ago in China. While two decades may not sound like a long career to L.A.’s industry veterans, Feng said the quick pace of Chinese development made them like dog years. One of the projects he managed spanned 800 acres.

“Because [China]  had the fastest growth in terms of urban renaissance and development, I accumulated a lot of experience,” he told The Real Deal. 

We sat down with Feng to discuss Oceanwide Plaza’s potential impact on the city and how it fits into Downtown L.A.’s renaissance.

There must be pressure to deliver a project of this magnitude on time. What were the first steps towards getting it off the ground?

Oceanwide Plaza is the first [North American] project for Oceanwide Holdings, so it needs to be successful and it needs to set the bar. The first step we took was partnering with local experts that really know the market. We didn’t come here thinking we knew it all. We partnered with CallisonRTKL architects, who designed 717 Olympic and L.A. Live, along with Kennedy Wilson for retail and other top of the line consultants.

How will the project compete with other projects rising Downtown?

We don’t worry much about the competition, especially considering our amenity deck. It’s a shared two-acre space for all the residents with a dog park, basketball court and jogging track. It’s like an oasis inside the city and you will not see any other project Downtown with something similar. During our planning stages, we also surveyed nearby residents and asked what they felt was missing. The area doesn’t have enough facilities to serve their daily lifestyle and needs.

How is your approach here different from how Oceanwide approaches its projects in China?

One example is the floor plan. In China, the bedrooms are typically on one side. When you go into a unit, you’ll see a living room, kitchen, family room and all the bedrooms are tucked together. Here, they are separated into two different ends because consumers want more privacy. We didn’t just bring what we think is comfortable. Chinese buyers purchase a residence or condo because it’s in L.A. They want to enjoy the L.A. lifestyle too, so we want to make sure this product is very fitted to local desires and demands.

How will the retail portion compete with existing offerings in South Park and Downtown as a whole?

Our positioning for the retail is to really answer to the needs of the neighborhood. A lot of the existing retail and even future retail centers are meant to serve the people that work in Downtown, not necessarily those who reside Downtown. You have L.A. Live, which is very restaurant-centric, and Figat7th that has one or two large retailers but that’s pretty much it. It’s not a lot of options.

What types of retailers are you looking to bring into the project?

We analyzed the current neighborhood rental value and it’s really high. The purchase power is not low, so we’re trying to match their purchase behavior. We can’t say it will be very high-end stores, but it’s not going to be low-end.

What’s your favorite part of the project?

Anybody can do residential buildings and retail, but you can’t see a park anywhere else. That’s my favorite aspect of the project.

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