City set to vote on plan to raze Parker Center and build $480-million office tower

The Los Angeles City Council will consider a proposal Friday to demolish Parker Center and build a $480-million office tower for city employees — a plan opposed by preservationists fighting to save the former police building.

The boxy Parker Center on Los Angeles Street served for more than five decades as the headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department and regularly appeared in the television series “Dragnet.” It closed in January 2013.

The building was designed by Welton Becket, the prolific architect behind the Capitol Records building, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the Cinerama Dome and the jet-age Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport.

Los Angeles city engineers contend that the mid-century building, which now sits empty, is seismically unsafe.

Amid calls to keep the structure, city engineers say it will cost at least $107 million more to preserve Parker Center and build an office tower next to it compared with knocking it down and erecting a new tower on the site.

The Los Angeles Conservancy disputes the city’s analysis and accuses officials of using inaccurate estimates to justify Parker Center’s demolition — something the city denies.

The battle over the building, which was named for former Police Chief William Parker, comes as city leaders push for a dramatic remake of the Civic Center, roughly 10 square blocks of government buildings surrounded by Little Tokyo, the Historic Core and Chinatown.

The old police headquarters, officials argue, stands in the way of encouraging residential and commercial growth in the staid Civic Center.

Municipal officials want restaurants and residences to create a more lively neighborhood, said Rick Coca, spokesman for City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents downtown.

“We have a Civic Center area that is not working for the city, not working for the residents and the stakeholders of downtown Los Angeles,” Coca said. “You have to have long-term goals.”

The development would follow construction of a new federal courthouse, the creation of Grand Park and renovation of the County Hall of Justice.

The 27-story office tower would house restaurants and commercial space on the bottom floors, though it would be used primarily by several city departments, including the Department of Public Works.

Coca said the city is now leasing several office properties across downtown, and the new tower would consolidate municipal workers.

He defended the city’s cost analysis, which found that preserving the main Parker Center building and constructing a tower with above-ground parking would cost $590 million.

By contrast, demolishing Parker Center and building a tower with underground parking would cost $483 million.

The analysis was done by Cumming, a global construction management company with a Los Angeles office.

Coca pointed to the millions of dollars needed to rehab Boyle Heights City Hall, which was damaged in the 2008 Chino Hills earthquake. The $590 million needed to seismically upgrade Parker Center and build the tower is on “the low end” of projections, he said.

Seeking to preserve Parker Center, the conservancy engaged a seismic engineer and did its own analysis.

That study found it would be cheaper to preserve the former police building, said Adrian Scott Fine, the conservancy’s director of advocacy. He estimates that it would cost $485 million to save Parker Center and build a new tower.

The group estimates it would cost $512 million to raze the structure and replace it with a new building.

Fine pointed to the recent makeovers of theaters and other buildings along Broadway as examples of successful restorations.

“We don’t believe that their number is anywhere near being accurate,” Fine said of the Cumming study. “We believe it’s a lot cheaper and cost-effective for the building to be reused.”​​​​

Costs aside, Little Tokyo residents and several City Council members support tearing down Parker Center.

Stores and businesses in Little Tokyo were razed to build the police headquarters more than six decades ago and people who live there want a “do over,” said Rey Salinas, project manager of the Little Tokyo Service Center.

The council last month rejected a plan to include Parker Center in L.A.’s list of historically significant buildings, with some council members pointing to Parker’s complicated legacy.

The chief, who headed the LAPD from 1950 to 1966, is blamed for widening tensions between police and minority communities.

The proposal to build a $480-million office tower comes as the city faces a $224-million deficit next fiscal year.

Councilman Paul Krekorian, who chairs the city’s Budget and Finance Committee, said he backs the plan to demolish Parker Center because of the cost of maintaining the empty building. After Friday’s vote, he said the city will conduct a financial analysis of the tower.

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