Pictures, the moving kind, are what Framestore is all about. From headquarters in London, the studio has provided animation, visual effects, and postproduction for such blockbusters as the Harry Potter franchise. David Howell designed the New York satellite a decade ago. Now, in the interiors version of a sequel, his firm, DHD Architecture & Design, has collaborated on a Los Angeles location.
Before Framestore entered the picture, real-estate developer Industry Partners had already hired RAC Design Build for tenant-improvement work on the building, a 1938 tilt-up warehouse with a tower addition. “We started with doors for the main entry, glazing and cladding for the tower, and the conference areas,” RAC’s Rick A. Cortez says. When Framestore signed on for the 12,000 square feet and brought Howell along, Cortez continued as a partner.
“We carried over elements from the other Framestores,” Howell begins. Those include a faceted enclosure for the restrooms, subway straps sprinkled about, bold stripes, and sunny yellow accents. New to the color palette, a teal feature wall references ’70’s uniforms from Air New Zealand. (He’s a Kiwi.)
“The space allowed for a diversity of zones,” Howell continues. “To cater to the big-name directors, we broke it up into smaller rooms with a nonlinear plan.” So when, say, Avatar’s James Cameron comes by, he could bypass reception and go right to the client lounge, where—from the comfort of a vintage airplane seat—he might just be impressed and amused enough to seal the deal.
Edit bays and production offices surround the kitchen and the sunken lounge for the 50 employees. It’s in looking up from the lounge that you fully appreciate the drama of the two-story tower directly overhead. That’s because Howell and Cortez eschewed solid flooring in favor of catwalk-style steel.
The tower houses a break-out area on the lower level and a conference room on the upper level. Above that, the roof terrace offers a perfect view stretching all the way to the Hollywood sign. No computer-generated imagery required.
How far inland can Silicon Beach reach?
Software developer Daqri will move this week to its permanent home at LA Center Studios, a sprawling 20-acre complex just west of the 110 freeway across from downtown Los Angeles.
The company, which had been in Santa Monica, joins a handful of pioneering media and technology companies that have already settled in a downtown market more accustomed to white-shoe lawyers and staid bankers.
Other notable additions to the fledgling roster of media and tech companies in downtown’s Financial District include e-commerce fashion company Nasty Gal, which moved into 50,000 square feet at the PacMutual building at 523 W. Sixth St. building in February, and Michael Bay’s Institute for the Development of Enhanced Perceptual Awareness, an Emmy Award-winning media company that moved from Venice about two years ago. Startup Scoutfit, an online shopping company that launched just last week, made its home in a small office at the 12-story Spring Arts Tower at 453 S. Spring St.
“Downtown is now being perceived as a cool place to work and a cool place to live,” said Chris Penrose, a leasing agent at CBRE Group Inc. who represents the 12-story Roaring Twenties building at 617 W. Seventh St.
“We’re seeing some of these younger, hipper companies evaluate downtown,” he said. “They don’t always move here, unfortunately. But downtown is definitely on the radar now and that’s a lot more than where it was just five years ago.”
Carle Pierose, a partner at Santa Monica real estate services firm Industry Partners who handles leases for the PacMutual building, said he has given downtown L.A. office tours to more media, technology and entertainment companies in the last year than in any previous year.
“I’ve done more than 40 leases here in the last year and most of those have been with creative firms,” he said of the building that was recently renovated to appeal to creative tenants. “We’re getting lots and lots of architects and a fair number of furniture- and construction-related companies. But something I’m really pleased about is we’re starting to see some entertainment and technology come here.”
Brian Mullins, chief executive of Daqri, an augmented reality software firm, was traveling and could not be reached. But Dan Gallup, a senior vice president for tenant brokerage Cresa Los Angeles in Brentwood who represented Daqri in lease negotiations for the company’s 18,000 square feet, said for it and many other tenants he takes on tours through downtown, the attraction was both geographic and economic.
“It’s easier to get in and out of downtown from different parts of Los Angeles and the space in the building itself was very attractive to them,” he said. “So, too, were the economics.”
The creative space these tenants are drawn to on the Westside is more expensive than creative space downtown. There are no surveys of creative space rates, but they generally reflect the Class A distinction. The average monthly asking rent for Class A Santa Monica office space in the third quarter was $4.64 a foot; in downtown, it was $3.22.
Industry Partners’ Pierose said rental value is one of the biggest drivers of traffic through the building. Since Rising Realty Partners purchased the property for $60 million two years ago, rents have jumped to nearly $3 a square foot a month from about $2. Upper levels with panoramic views demand rents closer to $4 a foot.
“I’ve raised the rent probably six or seven times since I’ve been working on the building, but the rent there is still a deal compared to other parts of town,” he said. “If PacMutual was in Santa Monica, it would lease for approximately $6 a square foot.”
The allure of downtown has been such that it made the short list of a few firms that, though they chose to settle elsewhere, might not have even looked at the submarket a year ago.
In recent months, media and technology companies including Riot Games, SpinMedia and Fox Animation Studios have all toured property downtown. While none of them ultimately signed a lease in the area – Riot Games went to West Los Angeles, Fox Animation to Hollywood and SpinMedia opted to stay in Hollywood – their interest marks a shift in attitude toward the city’s urban core.
Yet even as interest in creative office space downtown grows, readily available supply is limited.
CBRE’s Penrose said that only a couple buildings – including PacMutual and 617 W. Seventh – are widely considered appropriate for companies looking for true creative office space, and space in those buildings is getting tight.
“There’s a lack of supply, especially in the central business district,” he said. “You can look in the Arts District or go further east for older historical buildings, but a lot of those buildings need to be retrofitted and a lot of money needs to go into them to get them ready for occupancy.”
So until more creative office space comes on line in the area, Gallup said it’ll continue to be a challenge to convince media and technology companies he represents to call downtown home.
“For a lot of these tenants, when they can’t see the final project and see the other tenants in there, it makes it a little harder for them to imagine that the building is going to become something different,” he said.