After Sitting Vacant for a Decade, Downtown’s Broadway Trade Center Could Become LA’s Newest Tech Hub

Francesca Billington

Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.

After Sitting Vacant for a Decade, Downtown’s Broadway Trade Center Could Become LA’s Newest Tech Hub
Photo by Eric Zassenhaus

A new creator economy startup wants to build a “metaverse hub” in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, New York-based startup Emcee announced plans to buy the 1.1-million-square-foot Broadway Trade Center, a historic building in Downtown L.A. that once housed the city’s first department store but has been vacant for nearly a decade. Emcee says it wants to turn the building into the “Emcee Studio,” a tech hub and shopping center complementing its ecommerce and creator economy platform.

Emcee’s founder and chief executive, John Aghayan, told dot.LA that he expects to close the transaction by April. (The company did not disclose the purchase price.) Aghayan envisions the six-block-long building as a retail destination and co-working space that would accompany Emcee’s to-be-developed metaverse platform.

“We decided to buy real estate to bring under one roof tens of thousands of creators, innovators, private companies, startups and public companies,” Aghayan said.

Emcee’s plan is to lure a combination of software developers, entrepreneurs and designers to the Downtown space, which it says will house a hotel, member-exclusive rooftop pool, restaurant and one floor of co-working offices. The company wants the ground floor to operate like a futuristic shopping mall where in addition to physical storefronts, brands will maintain an augmented reality presence letting shoppers browse and buy online.

Built in 1907, the building once stood as Hamburger’s Department Store; it staffed about 1,200 employees and housed its own post office, public library and auditorium.Photo by Eric Zassenhaus

Emcee’s acquisition of the property is being financed by outside investors, none of whom the startup disclosed. Waterbridge Capital currently owns the property; the investment firm is helmed by Joel Schreiber, an early WeWork investor who backed Emcee’s $6 million seed round in December.

“This is the hottest location in Downtown L.A.,” Schreiber told dot.LA.

Once the deal goes through, Emcee plans on commencing work on the redevelopment—though the company declined to pinpoint a specific date when construction might begin.

Emcee was founded in 2021 as an ecommerce platform that relies on internet influencers to promote and market brands. Emcee’s influencers earn up to 30% commission for every purchase made on the platform. Users can also sell personal items through its marketplace, similar to the shopping platform Depop.

Emcee’s purchase of the Broadway Trade Center is just one in a string of metaverse-related expansions that the startup is plotting. Next year, it expects to roll out Emcee City, which it describes as a “fully functional immersive world, bridging IRL and digital landscapes to redefine social interaction, commerce and entertainment.”

The company also plans to introduce its own cryptocurrency, the $EMC token, by March. Consumers will be able to spend the currency on Emcee’s platform or, eventually, at physical stores located within the Emcee Studio building in Downtown L.A. Before opening the studio, Emcee will launch avatar functions and a 2D map for users to “start investing and buying virtual real estate,” Aghayan said.

If construction proceeds as anticipated, Aghayan’s company could successfully transform the expansive, historic property back into a retail destination. Built in 1907, the building once stood as Hamburger’s Department Store; it staffed about 1,200 employees and housed its own post office, public library and auditorium. The May Department Stores Company acquired Hamburger’s in 1923 and operated the building for more than half a century before moving out in 1986, at which point it was renamed the Broadway Trade Center.

In 2014, Waterbridge Capital and Continental Equities bought the property for $130 million with plans for a high-end redevelopment: a 200-room hotel, office space, luxury retail and a rooftop featuring bars and restaurants. Waterbridge oversaw basic construction and restorations to the building and hired L.A.-based Omgivning Architects to help design the new space.

But Waterbridge has yet to deliver on its initial plans. Schreiber, Waterbridge’s founder and CEO, said the firm has been “looking for the right tech enterprise to help us execute on this vision.”

“We had interest from very large tech companies—the largest tech companies in the world—to take the space,” Schreiber said, though he did not name which ones. “But this is not what the vision was—just to buy a building and put in a tech tenant.”

Aghayan is now hoping he can deliver on Schreiber’s vision.

“Santa Monica, Marina del Rey and Venice are attracting gaming, NFTs, crypto,” Aghayan said. “This is making Downtown the center to track all this talent and community.”
🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

🔦 Spotlight

Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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  • Penguin Random House agreed to acquire comic book publisher Boom! Studios from backers like Walt Disney Co. - learn more

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.

Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor

Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo

Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect

MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health

Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP

Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space

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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

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Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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