The council's 13-1 vote Tuesday clears the way for a new 45-story hotel and a 65-story office building to be constructed at the current site of the 58-year-old Wilshire Grand Hotel.
The upper levels of the buildings will have several million LED lightbulbs embedded into the surface, creating colorful images such as butterflies, fish and waterfalls.
"We think it's the next step to creating a downtown renaissance and a world class city. We are the second largest city in the country. We should have things like this," said Ayahlushim Getachew, senior vice president of Thomas Properties Group, which has partnered with Korean Air, the company that owns the project.
But not everyone approves the $1.2-billion Wilshire Grand Project. Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, doesn't oppose the project itself, but said the signage will create light pollution and set a bad precedent for other parts of the city.
"The historic core of downtown, which is right here, is very much in a different style. It's older, it's just a lot more architecturally interesting. I mean that might fit in a certain city, but downtown L.A. is just not really a good match," said Santa Monica resident Mackenzie Kaiser.
"What's being proposed is basically taking a building and turning it into a gigantic digital billboard," said Hathaway.
Getachew said the lowest 10 floors will have some commercial images and a streaming news ticker.
"The project and the approvals do not allow any text or logos or messaging, so there will be no advertising on the larger level that everybody is worried about," said Getachew.
Hamid Behdad, whose group owns a nearby high-rise, said the elegant lighting will enhance downtown.
"It's a part of urban living. If you don't like that kind of exciting lighting, like Times Square in New York, you should be perhaps in the suburbs," said Behdad.
The city council must hold a second reading of the motion on the project before it officially passes.
If given the green light, the 45-story hotel would open in 2015, and the 65-story office building would open in 2017.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.