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After Years of Helping Other Develop Downtown, Hamid Behdad Sets His Own Course

By Jon Regardie

In 2001, the firm Linear City launched an effort to turn a hulking former warehouse in the Industrial District into a modern condominium complex.  Almost immediately the project, called the Toy Factory Lofts, ran into problems with city regulations.

The first-time Downtown developer faced many hurdles, but one of the most vexing had to do with the windows on the north face of the building.

The 1924 structure was built to the edge of the property line.  This was a problem for the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, remembers Linear City partner Paul Solomon.  The department said that since the windows were also thus on the edge of the property, a neighboring development could be built to the edge of its property boundary and block the windows.  Though an unlikely occurrence, the department refused to issue a residential permit for the north side of the building.  It did, however, offer some options.

“The suggestions from the Building Department were extreme, such as, well, cut the whole building back,” remembers Solomon, a tall, soft-spoken figure. “At the Toy Factory, the floors are foot-thick concrete, and the building’s 250,000 square feet and six stories tall and a football field long.  So that was not good news for us.”

That’s when Solomon and his partners went again to Hamid Behdad, whom they had met a few months before.  Though an employee of the city, and thus potentially part of the bureaucracy, Behdad’s job was to help the city and developers work together to turn empty former office and industrial structures into new housing.  Downtown was the laboratory for the still-nascent transformation process called “adaptive reuse.”

Ultimately, the solution was relatively simple in concept, if not easy to achieve.  Linear City had to buy an easement from the neighbor.  City officials first asked for a 20-foot buffer.  Behdad, recalls Solomon, “helped to moderate their requests to something more reasonable.”

The 119-unit toy Factory Lofts opened in August 2004 and now anchors development in the Industrial District.  It was the 15th project Behdad and helped navigate through the system.

On Jan. 1, 2007, Behdad officially resigned as the city’s director of adaptive reuse.  During the previous seven years he was, many Downtowners say, perhaps the most important figure in the community’s building boom, even if few outside the development scene know his name.  The numbers bear that out:  Between 2000 and November 2006, 37 projects that Behdad shepherded opened in Downtown Los Angeles, bringing 4,138 housing units online (that includes the 207-room Standard hotel).  Another 33 projects, representing 4,172 apartments and condominiums, are under construction across the city (the vast majority of them Downtown), and 3,000 units are in the development pipeline.

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Central City Development Group is an urban-infill real estate development company providing advisory services to developments with mixed uses on a shared piece of real estate. Learn more about the founder of the company and the development projects CCDG has managed.

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