Arts District high-rise tied to City Hall corruption scandal resumes construction

475-unit apartment project by CP Employers figured in bribery allegations against indicted ex-councilman

Los Angeles /
Mar.March 10, 2022 12:55 PM
Carmel Partners CEO Ron Zeff and Jose Huizar with Renderings of the 520 Mateo Street project (Carmel Partners, NACTO, Works Progress Architecture)

Construction has resumed on the first high-rise building in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles, a project that stalled after its developer was linked to a City Hall corruption scandal.

San Francisco-based CP Employers – formerly known as Carmel Partners – has resumed site preparation at 520 Mateo Street for a 35-story building to contain 475 apartments, 105,000 square feet of office space, 20,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, and space for 650 cars, Urbanize Los Angeles reported.

If completed, the 390-foot tall building would be the tallest building in the Arts District.

Works Progress Architecture, based in Portland, and Chicago-based Solomon Cordwell Buenz, drew up plans for the glass-and-steel building, which would include rooftop and podium amenity decks, plus a new pedestrian paseo on a former rail spur between Mateo and Santa Fe Avenue.

Excavation and shoring work for the mixed-use development began in early 2020, but halted during the pandemic and reports of the project’s connections to a pay-to-play corruption scandal at City Hall centered on ex-Councilmember Jose Huizar.

Huizar, who is now awaiting trial in federal court, is alleged to have accepted political contributions from Carmel Partners for his wife’s short-lived City Council run during the approval process for 520 Mateo. Federal prosecutors say the developer also paid for opposition research on Huizar’s former aides who had filed sexual harrassment complaints against the councilman.

In return, Huizar allegedly pushed to reduce the amount of affordable housing required for the Arts District tower, saving the developer $14 million.

Huizar doesn’t dispute he accepted payments from developers, but claims they were legal, First Amendment-protected contributions and honest favors. 

As the details of the federal charges became public, some of Huizar’s then-colleagues on the City Council announced their intent to claw back approvals for projects with links to the bribery scandal, Urbanize reported.

An ordinance which would permit the City Council to revoke building permits and entitlements obtained through fraud was drafted in August 2020 and referred to the Council’s Planning Committee. But it, too, has stalled.

Ron Zeff’s CP Employers agreed to pay a $1.2 million fine to avoid prosecution in connection with the City Hall corruption case, admitting no wrongdoing in the settlement.

CP Employers’ pioneering high-rise in the Arts District has been followed by others. New towers drawn up by Bjarke Ingels Group and Herzog & de Meuron are in the works nearby, and Onni Group is planning a 36-story high-rise just south of 7th Street.

[Urbanize Los Angeles] – Dana Bartholomew





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