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Saturday, September 24, 2005 | My client of more than 40 years, Harlan Lee, invited me to attend the groundbreaking of “L.A. Live.” Most of the leadership of that oft belittled city was there; the new mayor and other Latino leaders were quite good in their pronouncements; an African-American council member was especially dynamic, and AEG, creator of Staples Center and the Home Depot Center – a breath-takingly pragmatic cauldron of risk-takers provides the leadership that boldness must have to be productive.
Here was just exactly the opposite of the Gulf-state fiasco in which African-Americans felt abandoned by national and state office holders. These were proud, articulate, imaginative leaders who knew that the future would belong to those who were bold enough to make it happen. The future is the day after today; it is also a living organism, which is sculpted by mere humans through exceptional leadership.
As I sat there, listening to the description of “L.A. Live,” I thought about San Diego’s magnificent bay – which Los Angeles does not have – and the Las Vegas desert-locked “theme park,” catalyzed by near-blind Steve Wynn, a study in veracity, audacity and risk-taking, a great entrepreneur with creativity giving clear vision to deadened eyes.
It is like Jeff Lee, who is the president of the Lee Group, whom I have known since he was born – with a congenital eye disease, making him legally blind. Nurtured by his proud, still mountain-climbing 80-year-old dad, he runs the organization that has become an outstanding presence in downtown Los Angeles. Their virtual marketing strategy is second to none. Their latest downtown venture, “Sky,” defines the wonder of high rise residential as part of the sky, with permanent open vistas to man-built and natural environments.
I envied belittled L.A., with bold, new leadership that will bring back a downtown that wasn’t even “used-to-be,” but it will be another hot, hot downtown San Diego – without a bay. I remember when Susan Golding took over as our mayor, calling me up to fashion ideas on what she might do to accelerate the tempo of the once-fierce velocity of Pete Wilson, that velocity more recently greatly diminished in both boldness and tempo. I suggested that she be audacious in her proposals and then get them done, that she enlist the business leadership into her strategy so that education would become her key arena for change, reminding her of the brilliant rut that “society is in a constant race between education and catastrophe,” and Arthur C. Clarke’s wonderful pronouncement that failure is due to two factors: the failure of imagination when minds cannot fathom the possibilities of bold and achievable goals, and the failure of nerve, when the ways are known but there aren’t the leaders who will risk possible failure – knowing the beating they’ll take from ever-present cynics and the media.
So, we have San Diego with a dazzling bay, the queen of possibilities; L.A., claiming that it will become the entertainment capital of the globe with its new “L.A. Live;” then Las Vegas, the obvious capital of audacity, discovering that it is more than a gambling mecca, but a desert, which with water and imagination harnessed, became the entertainment capital of all the planets. Vegas is the most interesting to me because its $5 billion, 66-acre “Project CityCenter” (terrible name), features famous architects, bold design and creative experimentation. Tall has become part of the new design of cities, because high-rise uses density that a voter/environmentalist would reject at a zoning hearing, but when attaining critical mass and great creativity, it is a wonderfully productive use of urban land.
However, as I’ve written for several years, Los Angeles, where I lived for so many years, with a cadre of bright community and business leaders, is destined to become the capital place for the megalopolis, i.e. dozens of suburban cities of three counties. Its downtown was thought lost to urban decay, a border-city mess, business flight to the affluent Westside, and a skid row that looked like the dictionary prototype for the word. It was the mental gathering place for cynics who fought their uncivil war of “wrong place, wrong time and wasted money.”
Now it has at least two bold ventures that will remake L.A. into one of the finest: the Grand Avenue Frank Gehry/Eli Broad recreation of what Wilshire Boulevard was at its vintage finest, and “L.A. Live,” more than four-million-square-feet of entertainment, hospitality, 3,700-seat multi-screen movie theater, 40,000-square-foot open-air plaza, 7,100-seat concert theater, 1,100-room new Hilton convention hotel (at last), hundreds of new residential units, plus ESPN’s new regional headquarters and sports entertainment creation, the Grammy Museum, Regal Entertainment group, and the loud, dynamic Conga Room, bringing genuine Latin music to this Latinized 21st Century city.
My feeling has long been that a city must be thought out as a “themed park,” like Tivoli Gardens (Copenhagen) with green sustainable spaces, and all the cultural and shopping playthings which satisfy human’s nature and needs. It must combine the risk-taking imagination of science-fiction writers and pragmatic fundraisers looking to quantify “sure things.” San Diego has the natural place-setting gorgeousness and climate to run away with this “competition.” Whether it has the audacity and communicative skills to light fires under the varied constituencies who spend too much time fighting rather than solving, well, we’ll just have to observe the results.
Sanford “Sandy” Goodkin is acting chairman of Civic Solutions, a group of leaders who analyze San Diego’s problems, prioritize them and search for solutions, representing diverse points of view. He is a trustee of the Urban Land Institute and is a pioneer of residential market and marketing analysis. Read his real estate columns at www.sgoodkin.com. Contact him directly with your thoughts and opinions at