What Would Jack Kyser Have Thought of Today’s Downtown?
Los Angeles Downtown Los Angeles
By Jon Regardie
December 6, 2016

DTLA – It’s amazing to think about everything that has happened in Downtown Los Angeles in the last six years. It’s a shame that Jack Kyser isn’t here to see it.

It’s also a shame that he isn’t around to weigh in on the happenings and trends, and to tell us about the things he sees bubbling up that so many of us can’t yet envision.

For Downtown newbies, the name may be unfamiliar. Veteran residents and workers, however, will fondly recall the oft-quoted economist. Jack was the guy who seemingly every Los Angeles journalist turned to when a business story called for some expert analysis.

Jack passed away six years ago this week. He died on Dec. 6, 2010, at the age of 76.

Jack passed away six years ago this week. He died on Dec. 6, 2010, at the age of 76.

Jack Kyser Passes Away

Jack spent nearly two decades as the chief economist of the Downtown-based Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., where, among many other things, he authored an annual report on the region’s economy; it served as a road map of the area’s varied business sectors and trends. He later became chief economic advisor of the Southern California Association of Governments. His office was filled with toys including a train set. He loved cats and had a wicked sense of humor.

He was famous for returning reporters’ calls quickly and for his ability to take complex economic matters and translate them into something that made sense for journalists and their audience.

Not Your Typical Economist

The month after he died, a memorial service was held in a ballroom in the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. Hundreds of people turned out, including a large swath of the Downtown business community. Those who eulogized him included then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and then-City Controller Wendy Greuel.

In the years since his death, Jack has been replaced by, well, no one. While there are experts in various fields who reporters call when they need a quote, and who business leaders turn to when they need to solicit a study or require advice, no one in Los Angeles has assumed Jack’s role as the economic guru.

Part of his legacy is that he remains irreplaceable.

Bullish on Downtown

Six years seems short, but it’s also a huge economic cycle in the past. When Jack died we were emerging from the depths of a brutal recession. Many of the Downtown high-rises and big projects debuting now had not even been broached in late 2010.

Jack was consistently bullish on Downtown, even in the down years. Time and again he would cite Downtown’s geographic advantage, its location amid the freeway ring and at the heart of the regional mass transit system.

“He thought the inevitability factor was really high, that eventually Downtown would come around,” said Dick Carter, a retail and development expert and friend of Jack’s for 45 years. “Jack would have been enamored of it. He grew up here in Southern California. I grew up here. It’s not like we were transplants. We’ve seen it all. The fact that the public transit lines worked so well made Downtown ground zero for everything.”

Hal Bastian, another longtime friend who today runs the consulting business Hal Bastian Inc., recalled that Jack would not sugarcoat challenges, but he always saw the potential of the community.

“I think he would have said, ‘I told you so,’” said Bastian. “And I think he would have been delighted but not surprised in any way. Jack always felt Downtown Los Angeles was the economic generator for the region.”

I expect Jack would have been enthused by the boost in convention business and how that has benefitted other businesses, and spurred the construction of so many hotels. I doubt he would be surprised by the influx of national and international money into Downtown. I also think he’d be among the first to warn of a recession when credit markets begin to tighten, or other early indicators appear.

Bastian thinks Jack would have been happy to see growth across the area.

“I think he’d be very pleased that the development that we’re seeing is not happening just in the Central Business District, but in the Arts District, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, the many neighborhoods of Downtown,” Bastian said. “We miss him very much.”

We do indeed, and as I think about Jack and his view of Downtown, I can’t help but recall a favorite story. In the late 1990s, he participated in a panel discussion. This was before the residential boom, before all the restaurants and bars arrived. It was easy to see only the negatives, and one speaker kept slamming Downtown. He finally called it “the Downtown dog.”

“Be careful of the Downtown dog,” Jack responded instantly, “because it will bite you in the ass.”

If only Jack could see that dog today.

To view the original Los Angeles Downtown News article, click here.