Before the coronavirus pandemic, downtown Los Angeles was changing before our eyes. Over the last 10 years the skyline changed, nearly 90 thousand residents moved in, and it became a destination for visitors. But LA Times staff writer Thomas Curwen writes things are much different since COVID-19 and he poses the question...can downtown recover?

After almost a century, Los Angeles had a downtown that could rival other great American cities. Then people started getting sick, restaurants closed, residents fled, and office workers kept a distance. Suddenly it was 2008 all over again.

What You Need To Know

  • LA Times staff writer, Thomas Curwen says that when he started working in DTLA in the 1980s, it was mostly a place for 9 to 5 commuters 

  • Over the last decade, DTLA changed, nearly 90 thousand residents moved in, and it became a destination for visitors

  • Chef Josef Centeno —whose restaurant Orsa & Winston was named the Times’ Restaurant of the Year—had to close down his DTLA restaurant Bäco Mercat 

  • With businesses closed and many buildings boarded up, homeless have been fanning out from Skid Row and setting up encampments

LA Times reporter Thomas Curren met a bike messenger named Jimmy Lizama, whose business has taken a hit since the pandemic started.

“He told me that when he got started back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were probably about 100 bike messengers and they would be working around downtown Los Angeles delivering documents to law offices, courts, and other places. And, now that number’s went down to about 20 and a lot of them are moving to food delivery. Jimmy’s very proud of the fact that he didn’t have to go that route. He wants to be able to keep his status as a legal messenger intact,” said Curwen.

Curwen says that when he started working in downtown Los Angeles in the 1980s, it was mostly just a place for 9 to 5 commuters to come to work. However, in the last 10 years, it has had a remarkable upgrade. It has really popped up with a lot of people moving into apartments throughout downtown Los Angeles.

“You once had this sort of industrial section that turned into the Arts District. You had the area around the Staples Center that was able to attract a lot of developers. You know, the cultural center up on Grand Avenue with Bunker Hill, the Music Center, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. So each of these districts was able to develop its own personality and identity,” said Curwen. 

Curwen also spoke with chef Josef Centeno who had to close his restaurant Bäco Mercat last month. The restaurant was small and incompatible with the demands of social distancing. “Right now he’s holding on to this other restaurant in the area, Orsa & Winston, and hopefully that business can hold on to its claim and the landscape down there, and he’s able to keep his employees employed,” added Curwen.

The volume is also down in office buildings where there used to be 3,500 workers, there are now 300 workers. There are more spaces available for rent, and people who are considering moving to downtown Los Angeles change their mind because other conditions have deteriorated, primarily with the homeless.

“The numbers do tell the story. I think the question is: does Los Angeles need a downtown? I think the last few months as we see the businesses hollowed out, some boutiques are closing their shops, restaurants are closing, office workers aren't coming downtown, and the homeless are scattering out because of COVID-19. Suddenly this renaissance that we saw over the last 10 years, raises a big question: how essential is downtown Los Angeles to the landscape of Los Angeles in general?” said Curwen.