June 5 was a day to celebrate as union leaders, government officials and developers broke ground in Century City on the $210 million 10 Thousand Santa Monica Blvd. project, which will create more than 1,000 jobs for members of the Building Trades.
When the project’s momentum stalled earlier this year, union pension fund investor Ullico increased its loan to a project-saving $57.5 million. “Bank of America pulled out, so this deal was not going to happen,” said Ullico President and CEO Ed Smith. “When we found that out, Ullico said, ‘We’ll make it happen.’”
Ullico, the nation’s only labor-owned insurance and investment company, invests the resources of unions, such as pension funds.
Union Funds Are Driving the LA Economy
Ron Miller, Executive Secretary of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, said union members themselves had made the groundbreaking possible. “For the men and women of labor in the audience—this is happening because of you,” he said. “You’re putting your hard-earned pension money in with a good company like Ullico, and we’re driving the economy of LA. Without that pension money, this job wouldn’t be happening—it would still be a vacant piece of land,” said Miller, pointing into a roughly 30-foot-deep pit containing two pile rigs and the banner of general contractor Swinerton.
Miller said labor must create its own opportunities. “This is a tough time. The economy’s picking up, but the banks are still holding onto that money. But we have an answer to that—it’s us. It’s our pension money, our investment. Working with partners like Ullico, we’re harnessing our dollars, our cents, and turning it into hundreds of millions of dollars for investment.”
Paul Koretz, Los Angeles City Councilmember for the Century City area, said he was impressed at such resourcefulness. “It’s exciting that the Building Trades are stepping up to make their projects happen, which then create jobs for their members,” he said. “I think it’s a good system.
“It has weighed on me that the Building Trades have had high unemployment,” Koretz added. “I’ve been focused on making sure these projects ultimately get approved, so we can start whittling those numbers down and putting people back to work.”
Crescent Heights Partners With Ullico
Crescent Heights is the developer of 10 Thousand Santa Monica. Spokesperson Steven Afriat listed many buildings that Crescent Heights, Ullico and organized labor have built in California and beyond. “We’re proud of our relationship with Ullico and organized labor. My client says when he’s showing this building to prospective owners and tenants, he wants to say that when you turn on a light switch, it was wired by a union Electrician. When you flush your toilet, the pipes were connected right—by a union Plumber. And when you’re standing on the 39th floor, that steel was put in by a union Iron Worker. That will help him sell his product, and that will help people feel confident living in a project that was built with skilled union members.”
After the groundbreaking, about 70 leaders and representatives of Building Trades local affiliated unions joined the Ullico team for lunch at the Beverly Hilton hotel. From a glassed-in dining room, all had a view of the new building site one block to the west. Leaders and investors were able to exchange ideas about future projects Ullico may fund.
The tower will rise 42 stories, measure 470,000 square feet and offer 283 luxury residences. Handel Architects designed a four-quadrant skyscraper with a dramatically luminous, transparent skin. It will stand a short walk from the shops and offices of Century City and Beverly Hills and the coming Purple Line subway station, and earn LEED certification for environmental friendliness.
“This is a wonderful thing for our members—for all union members—to see a 100 percent union project being built,” said Iron Workers Local 433 Business Manager Michael Silvey. “The project represents tangible progress.”
The development joins several others recently financed by union funds and built all union, including Pasadena’s Playhouse Plaza, the Vermont apartment towers, Malt Avenue warehouse in Commerce and the Los Alamitos Medical Center parking structure.
Previous collaborations between the Building Trades and Ullico, which was founded in 1927, include the 2013 Q Award-winning RedBuilding in West Hollywood and downtown’s LA Live entertainment complex. Since its founding in 1977, Ullico’s “J for Jobs” fund has invested more than $950 million in Southern California and $12.5 billion nationally in more than 430 projects.
Union Labor Creates a Better Product
Herb Kolben, senior vice president of Ullico’s Real Estate Investment Group, said, “We’re looking forward to all the jobs this project creates and the revenue it brings to the investors in the ‘J for Jobs’ fund. Union labor offers quality of construction, timeliness and worker productivity. It’s just a better product.”
The support of neighborhood groups, whose representatives also attended the groundbreaking, was significant. Koretz was widely praised for his efforts to rally local support, and said that the victory is part of a broader picture. “What we see happening today is a very positive sign. LA is starting to recover from a downturn that has left us struggling for the last few years. We’re seeing an upswing. Throughout LA, development is starting to come back.”
He said organized labor was crucial. “We got a lot of help and support from the men and women in the labor movement, particularly the Building Trades,” Koretz said.
Plasterers Local 200 representative David Fritchel said he and his members are pleased with the arrangement. “For our local’s pension, we’re invested with Ullico, and Ullico’s always a win-win. We’ve been with Ullico through thick and thin. We’ve got the skill to get the job done on time, and on budget.”
Roofers & Waterproofers Local 220 Business Manager Brent Beasley said he sees the economy on the march compared with five years ago. “Things are tenfold better today than they were then.” He said his members are eager to strengthen their own investment and feed their own pensions through their coming work hours. “These are high-profile, good union jobs, plus we get a good return on our pension. So it’s a two-fer for our members—they get a return on their pension, plus they get hours and jobs. So yes—we appreciate that kind of investment.”