Attendees of the ULI Fall Meeting tour Fig at 7th, one of Downtown L.A.’s premier shopping and dining destination located at 7th & Figueroa streets.

Retail is the pulse of any vibrant urban environment, including downtown Los Angeles (DTLA). Just ask Avison Young’s Derrick Moore, who has brokered some 400 DTLA retail leasing deals in the last few years.

Leading a group of 2017 ULI Fall Meeting attendees on a walking tour, Moore recalled that the downtown business district was once a retail hub with iconic department stores such as Bullock’s, Broadway, and Robinson’s. Following mid-century suburbanization, the city’s core lost retailers, residents, and even a viable public transportation system.

DTLA’s revitalization started taking off in 1999 with the opening of Staples Center, the massive sports and entertainment arena, and the city’s adoption of an adaptive use ordinance. In 2007, the multi-billion-dollar L.A. Live complex opened next door to the arena, enlivening the area with additional entertainment, restaurants, a museum, two hotels, and more. That year also saw the opening of a downtown Ralph’s, DTLA’s first chain grocery store in nearly 60 years.

Now, said Moore, much of DTLA’s retail leasing is driven by hotel and mixed-use development around the convention center, financed primarily by foreign capital. The city has set a goal of adding 8,000 new hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center. Circa and Oceanwide Plaza, now under construction in the Figueroa Street corridor, will bring new hotel, apartment, condominium, and retail uses to the neighborhood. Oceanwide will have 180,000 square feet (17,000 sq m) of retail space connecting directly to a Metro station. Circa will offer 17,000 square feet (1,600 sq m) of animated digital signage.

Further into the financial district, the retail scene is more about redevelopment. FIGat7th is a 330,000-square-foot (31,000 sq m) open-air shopping mall that originally opened in the mid-1980s, anchored by Bullock’s and May Company. Its current owner, Brookfield Properties, completed a major renovation in 2013 before bringing in Target, Zara, H&M, and other popular retailers. The center is now over 90 percent occupied.

Just two blocks away, The Bloc’s retail component is still undergoing renovation by the Ratkovich Companies, which acquired the former Macy’s Plaza in 2013 with partners National Real Estate Advisors and Blue Vista Capital Management. Covering a full city block, this 1.8 million-square-foot (167,000 sq m) project includes a 496-room Sheraton Grand hotel and a 720,000-square-foot (67,000 sq m) office tower, along with 400,000 square feet (37,000 sq m) of retail space anchored by a 240,000-square-foot (22,000 sq m) Macy’s department store.

In 2014, The Bloc’s new ownership launched an ambitious renovation that began with removing the glass atrium roof to create an outdoor plaza. The run-down former Hyatt Regency hotel was transformed into a gleaming Sheraton Grand. Under the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s first public/private partnership, a new pedestrian passage was created between the Bloc’s plaza and the heavily traveled 7th Street Metro station.

The DTLA retail scene continues to grow and evolve. There is a new 43,000-square-foot (4,000 sq m) Whole Foods supermarket, and a variety of restaurants have followed the early success of Bottega Louie. Moore noted, however, that DTLA still lacks sufficient household and soft-goods retail options. The addition of stores such as Pier One or West Elm are needed to offer a more complete shopping experience for new city dwellers, he said.