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Developers Lay Out Plans For Historic YWCA Building

Three years after slamming the door shut on Civic Center luxury hotel, Planning Department entertains hotel and affordable housing projects for the city’s Civic Center

Published on Wednesday, September 23, 2020 | 4:50 am

Three years after a proposal for a luxury boutique hotel in Pasadena’s Civic Center was shot down by City Council, the historic YWCA and a former Water and Power site took center stage again as local residents and the city’s Planning Department heard proposals from five developers to re-imagine two sites in Centennial Plaza. 

The plans were presented in a “virtual community forum” Zoom meeting moderated by Planning Department Director David Reyes a full 10 years after the city obtained the sites by eminent domain. 

Back in April of 2017, the City Council failed to approve or disapprove a plan by Kimpton Hotels for a luxury boutique hotel project in Civic Center, essentially “pausing” the project.

Councilmember Victor Gordo said at the time, that pausing the project—which would mean no permits or construction for the time being, “if ever”—would allow the council and developer to “work together to look at the numbers again,” and make time for the Council to “consider other alternatives” for the historic property. 

“If ever” arrived Tuesday afternoon as the various developers shared their plans for providing affordable housing at a former Pasadena Water and Power site on Ramona Avenue between Garfield and Marengo avenues as well as possible hotels for the historic YWCA building site. 

The city purchased the YWCA building, designed by famed architect Julia Morgan,. through eminent domain for $8.6 million seven years ago under eminent domain. At that point, the 96-year-old structure was dilapidated having fallen into serious disrepair after it changed ownership in 1996.

Morgan was the first woman admitted to the architecture program at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She designed the YWCA building in the early 1920s. The building was completed in 1923.

Morgan arrived in Paris in 1896 to attend the École des Beaux-Arts, the most respected architecture school in the world. Up until that point, no woman had gained admittance into the school. The diminutive Morgan, who designed Hearst Castle for publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst starting in 1919, took the entrance exam three times before she was admitted in 1898.  

The affordable housing developers and their proposals included Abode Communities, which is proposing 103 dwelling units for families in a 5-level building;  National Community Renaissance of California, proposing either a 94-unit family project or a 112-unit senior housing project in a 5-level building, with 94 on-site parking spaces for the family project and 50 on-site parking spaces for the senior project; BRIDGE Housing, proposing a 72-unit affordable housing project for seniors with approximately 39 spaces on-site in a 4-level building on the Ramona Street lot.

Two remaining developers—HRI Properties, LLC of New Orleans, LA, and  Edgewood Realty Partners, LLC of South Pasadena—presented plans to renovate the YWCA building, and create new hotels on the historic site.

The city originally issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the former YWCA building, at 78 North Marengo Avenue. But, in 2020, as the City was proceeding with the RFP, a State law related to affordable housing compelled Pasadena to pause its RFP process. 

The new State law required the city to issue a Notice of Availability (NOA) to a broader set of affordable housing developers, thus opening the door to possible hotel development. 

The first presenter  Abode, is also partnering with Edgewood Realty, to develop Edgewood’s affordable housing component, but in their individual presentation for the Water and Power site, they presented a plan for a five-story development with 103 rental units and 2400 square feet of retail space. 

The available affordable apartments include 27 studio units ranging from $520 to $1,068 a month, 52 one-bedroom units from $547 to $1135; and 24 two-bedroom units from $653 to $1,358. 

Abode also previously developed the Centennial Plaza permanent supportive housing project from the former YMCA building in the Civic center, across Holly from the YWCA building

National CORE, the second presenter,  is one of the nation’s largest integrated nonprofit developers of affordable housing, with nearly 9,000 units and 27,000 residents across four states. It is partnering with National Community Renaissance, Onyx Architects, City Fabrick Landscape Design, and Union Station Homeless Services, for its affordable housing project.

The group previously developed the successful and highly regarded Marv’s Place, a permanent supportive housing development on Mar Vista. 

The CORE project would feature 94 units, divided into 46 studios, 24 two-bedroom, and 24 three bedroom units, all at 100% Affordable rental rates. According to their presentation, the totals reflect “the number of supportive housing units (for) homeless that the project can self-fund through capitalized reserves and cross subsidy from higher income units without an award of a rental subsidy contract.”

Community Amenities would include a play yard,  a community center with support space, a  lobby and a lounge,  along with laundry rooms on each floor.

The project would also feature landscaped outdoor courtyards for residential and public use,  94 underground reserved parking stalls for residents. 

Bridge Housing,  an affordable housing developer which built the 2017 Heritage Square senior project, and HRI Properties, based in New Orleans,  also presented an affordable housing project for the Water and Power site.

Calling the design one that is “complementary to the historic buildings that precede it in the context of surrounding neighborhoods,” their building plan includes a ground floor entry lobby, a community room and leasing office, and 39 covered parking spaces. 

Three of the four floors will include 72 one-bedroom units averaging 570 SF / unit, and the project will target seniors with 100% of the units set aside for low-income households.

“Given the compact site and various zoning ordinances, developing this project for Pasadena seniors will provide the most affordable homes in this highly walkable area,” their presentation noted.

For their combined YWCA revitalization hotel project, the HRI/Bridge team said they were proposing “a meticulous renovation of the YWCA Building as well as the construction of two additional buildings in the District that will respect the notable architecture of the surrounding Civic Center Historic District.” 

The group proposed a179-key boutique hotel on the YWCA site and the 72-unit affordable housing building on the neighboring Water & Power site.

Edgewood Realty, a long time Pasadena developer, also presented two projects—an affordable housing project for the Water and Power site, as well as plans for a new luxury boutique hotel, the PasadenaPali, incorporating the history YWCA building. The impressive project team includes Abode Communities, luxury hotel developer PaliSociety, Pasadena architects Moule & Polyzoides, and the DLR Group, which upgraded the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2019. 

According to their presentation, their development would “complete major elements of the Bennett Plan for the Civic Center, including the restoration of the  YWCA building, a 104-Unit Affordable/Workforce Housing Building on the Water and Power site and “comprehensive landscaping and outdoor Improvements unifying the Civic Center.”

The PaliPasadena Hotel would feature 164 hotel rooms, along with a specialty restaurant, and outdoor dining areas. According to the Edgewood presentation, the hotel would be “designed to be a dynamic neighborhood hub for the Civic Center, with revitalized indoor and outdoor spaces.”

Response to the presentations from the approximately 150 people participating online seemed very positive, with longtime Pasadena housing activists praising all of the projects.  Many of the same activists had aggressively led the previous battle against the proposed Kimpton hotel project in 2017. 

Resident and housing activist Anthony Manousos effusively praised the various presenters, saying, “You’re asking us to choose our favorite chocolate cake.”

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