All images: LARGE Architecture
Los Angeles has an Olympics to prepare for. That urgency is materializing in plenty of ways, not the least of which includes an expansion of the Hilton tower in the unincorporated area of Universal City. The Hilton currently enjoys year-round popularity because of neighboring Universal Studios Hollywood and the hotel’s convenient location near the 101 freeway. Yet, with the 2028 Olympic games looming large, a significant expansion will bring much-needed relief. Last week, the Department of City Planning shared a proposal, giving a glimpse of what’s to come for the well-known hotel.
The Seemingly Ever-Expanding Plans for the Universal City Hilton
Since 1983, Universal City’s Hilton tower has stood proudly at the edge of Universal Studios Hollywood at 555 E. Universal Hollywood Drive. Guests have relied on the 495 rooms, ample underground parking, and convenient location of the 24-story tower. But as tourism climbed in the years preceding the pandemic, the Universal City Hilton was quickly becoming inadequate in the face of demand. Though originally floated as an accompanying 15-story tower, the Hilton’s expansion ballooned to a 17-story tower in 2018. Now it seems the dimensions are expanding yet again.
Details of the Expansion
According to documents provided to the public by LA’s Department of City Planning, the Universal City Hilton accompaniment will now be an 18-story tower measuring over 230 feet. Proposed by Sun Hill Properties, the expansion will offer an additional 395 rooms. This means the Universal City Hilton would collectively offer 890 rooms which would come in handy during the 2028 Olympic games.
Parking accommodations will also be getting a much-needed expansion. The new tower would provide an additional 460 parking spots bringing the Universal City Hilton to a total of 1,112 spaces.
To bring the new tower of the Universal City Hilton to life, Sun Hill Properties sought the help of Seattle-based architects Ankrom Moisan. The design isn’t a 100% reimagining. The architects retained elements from previous drafts, including the tower’s diamond-shaped footprint. A rooftop pool also carried over from prior sketches.
The Return of LA Tourism
The global pandemic created a lull in LA’s tourist numbers. But according to data collected by Marcus & Millichap, tourism numbers are rapidly approaching pre-pandemic levels. The real estate investment company reported in its midyear hospitality data that LA hotels boasted the fifth highest booking in the nation this year. These numbers combined with the rapidly approaching 2028 Summer Olympics favor hotel expansion like that of the Universal City Hilton.
Dwindling Hospitality Investments
And yet, recent developments in the city have made hotel purchase and investment unappetizing for most commercial investors. The lion’s share of this distaste arises from surging interest rates and a city-imposed tax on properties sold for over $5 million. Since this encompasses most buildings in the hospitality industry, hotel sales have dwindled. In a typical year, somewhere between 15 and 20 Los Angeles hotels exchange hands. This year, only one hotel worth over $5 million was sold.
Yet, as the Universal City Hilton illustrates, hospitality investment hasn’t completely ground to a halt. In fact, additional developments are currently planned for the same area. The NBC Universal Evolution project has at least two 500-room hospitality projects in the pipeline. However, Sheraton Universal’s 2018 planned expansion appears to have been canceled. That expansion would have produced a 31-story tower offering 551 guest rooms.
The Universal City Hilton Expansion Eyes 2024
We won’t know until 2024 whether the Universal City Hilton expansion suffers a similar fate. City officials won’t consider the proposal until sometime in the spring. But, if given the green light, construction should take an estimated 30 months. So, by 2027, the Hilton may be able to take some of the heat off of incoming reservations for Olympics spectators. Though it may be just a drop in the necessary ocean, every drop counts.