"We want the retail to be a unique destination people want to come to, like Abbot Kinney Boulevard or Melrose Avenue," Ratner said. "We want to aim high."

As designed by architect Johnson, Blossom Plaza will have an open-air passage in the middle, enabling people to walk from Broadway to the train.

"The project is trying to be open and porous to circulation," Johnson said. His firm, Johnson Fain, is based in Chinatown in a former car dealership facility.

Long-popular Little Joe's was founded around the turn of the 20th century. It is a remnant of the Italian and French communities that once occupied the neighborhood. City officials moved Chinatown there in the 1930s to clear the way for Union Station on Alameda Street.

Little Joe's started as a grocery store that sold sandwiches and evolved into a restaurant, delicatessen and bar. In 1927 it moved to 900 N. Broadway, where it had a long run serving up ravioli, veal scallopini and cocktails.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Little Joe's was a hangout for Dodgers players and fans, and a destination for the downtown business crowd. It was also a frequent site for Dodgers news conferences.

During Tommy Lasorda's tenure as manager in the 1980s, Little Joe's frequently sent Italian sausage, mostaccioli and linguine to Dodger Stadium, where Lasorda shared the food with his players.

It closed in 1998 because the owners couldn't afford to remodel it to comply with new building codes for earthquake safety and disability access.

The Little Joe's sign — which features a small man with a big key to the wine cellar — will be preserved, said Frank Frallicciardi of Forest City.

It might be displayed at the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles or in a potential new development at Capitol Milling, he said.

Blossom Plaza will include three-bedroom units to accommodate families, Forest City's Ratner said.

He expects many of the occupants will be of Asian descent and that its urban location near a Metro light-rail station will draw mostly youthful residents.

"We are set up obviously to appeal to a young, hipster crowd," he said.

Forest City built the Metro 417 apartment complex in the former Subway Terminal Building in downtown Los Angeles and the Met Lofts apartments near Staples Center. Many more residences are yet to come throughout the central city, Ratner said.

"We still have a certain way to go," he said, "until the need for housing is satiated downtown."

roger.vincent@latimes.com

Twitter: @rogervincent