This morning, a new tunnel opened connecting Metro’s 7th Street Station with The Bloc shopping center complex. Metro riders no longer need to cross a busy 7th Street at street level, but can ascend into the mall on the south side of the street. These sorts of subway access points are fairly common in east coast cities, but the new tunnel represents the L.A. Metro rail system’s first exit directly into a private business site.
Metro, in the 1990s, had the foresight to build its underground stations with knock-out panels to facilitate these types of expansion. A similar panel was removed to make way for Metro’s recently-opened North Hollywood Station underpass.
The 25-foot tunnel cost $9.3 million. In a public-private partnership, the cost was split between Metro and The Bloc. Under the terms of the partnership, the Bloc is responsible for keeping the tunnel open to the public from at least 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Bloc was formerly Macy’s Plaza, a never-quite-thriving 1972 mall. The site was redeveloped by The Ratkovich Company, with partners National Real Estate Advisors, Blue Vista Capital, and Studio One Eleven. It is in the final stages of a $180 million renovation which included removing the roof to create an open-air plaza. The overall project includes office and residential towers, the Sheraton Grand Hotel, and large parking structures. Ratkovich has developed (and preserved) several wonderful L.A. historic sites, including the Oviatt Building, the Fine Arts Building, the Chapman Market, and the Wiltern Theater.
The downtown Los Angeles 7th Street Station serves Metro’s Blue, Expo, Red, and Purple Lines. It is the second-busiest station in the Metro system, after Union Station. With the opening of the under-construction Regional Connector subway (set for 2021), the station will get even busier.
On hand to celebrate the tunnel this morning were actor Ed Begley, Jr., Metro board chair John Fasana, City Councilmember José Huizar, Metro boardmember Jackie Dupont-Walker, The Ratkovich Company president Wayne Ratkovich, and others. Speakers emphasized the win-win benefits of the tunnel which expands Metro’s station capacity, and improves foot traffic for The Bloc. Huizar spoke of how the project fits the walkable, bikeable character emerging downtown, emphasizing that in the future, 7th Street will be remade to give transit and active transportation higher priority, and, in the not too distant future, the downtown streetcar will return.
The Bloc’s renovation and the Metro tunnel construction have taken longer than expected. In early 2015, the tunnel was anticipated to open later that year. This morning, two years later, the tunnel and many stores are open. Several storefronts remain boarded up but are expected to open soon.