Geoffrey Palmer seen as both downtown LA trailblazer, steamroller – Los Angeles Times

Posted: Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Before rows of trendy restaurants and luxury residential towers became common in downtown Los Angeles, developer Geoffrey H. Palmer had a vision for some of the city center’s more neglected corners.

Over the last 15 years, he built a series of fortress-like faux-Italian apartment blocks across downtown, several of them clustered along the 101 and 110 freeways and visible to commuters as they negotiate the four-level interchange.

The Da Vinci was the latest in Palmer’s so-called “Renaissance collection,” apartment complexes with such names as the Orsini and Lorenzo. But early Monday morning, the 526-unit project under construction along the 110 Freeway was severely damaged in a fire that investigators said appeared suspicious.

The massive blaze has again focused attention on Palmer and his much-debated developments.

Business leaders describe Palmer, 64, as a trailblazer in the long effort to revive downtown, saying that he built housing in places where others wouldn’t. Critics contend that he has shown little interest in quality architecture or the neighborhoods where he puts his projects.

Palmer has more than 3,500 residential units completed in the greater downtown area and more than 2,500 planned or under construction, according to city records and figures posted on Palmer’s company website. Even critics generally agree that he has perfected a successful formula: purchase comparatively inexpensive land next to freeways or on lower-income streets, then construct luxury apartments on a large scale, with hundreds of units in a complex.

“If you look at some of the areas where he put those buildings, you can’t imagine people would pay that type of rent there,” said Jeff Luster, chief executive of Major Properties, an industrial and commercial real estate firm. “He’s getting high-end rents in a lower-end area, which is very impressive.”

Palmer issued a statement Monday saying that even after the fire, he expected the northern section of the Da Vinci development to open next year.

“Though we have temporarily lost Building B, we will be opening Building A across the street at the end of January to those families looking forward to occupying their new homes,” he said.

A resident of Beverly Hills, Palmer was one of the pioneers of downtown’s revival in 2001, when he completed the 632-unit Medici complex on 7th Street near the 110 Freeway. Until then, he was known as a cautious and methodical developer who owned or operated about 5,000 units across Los Angeles and Ventura counties. For the most part, his firm focused on suburban complexes in the Santa Clarita Valley.

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