LOS ANGELES - Councilmember Bernard C. Parks joined Congresswoman Maxine Waters and city officials to kickoff demolition of the run-down buildings in Marlton Square, a 20-acre shopping center located at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Marlton Ave., that has fallen into disrepair and sits nearly vacant.
“This community has watched for nearly two decades, as Marlton fell into disrepair and became an eyesore, attracting a variety of problems like illegal dumping, arson and vandalism,” Councilmember Parks said. “Today, we can finally turn the page on the problems of the past begin a new chapter as we clear the way for future development.”
“Clearing these properties is a small but important step forward in our joint efforts with Councilman Parks, the Mayor’s office and the community to revitalize Marlton Square, which we consider South LA’s biggest economic development opportunity,” said Christine Essel, CEO of the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles.
The sordid history of Marlton Square goes as far back as 1984, when Mayor Tom Bradley first called for redevelopment of the shopping center then known as Santa Barbara Plaza. Former LA Laker-turned-businessman and entrepreneur Magic Johnson won the exclusive right to negotiate in 1996, and spend five years working with the city through the planning and entitlement process, only to loose the deal in 2002 to a development group, Capital Vision Equities, under the direction of developer Chris Hammond. Capital Vision Equities ultimately was unable to perform their redevelopment responsibilities and defaulted on the project in 2004.
To further complicate matters, Capital Vision’s bank itself went bankrupt in 2006. The Las Vegas-based USA Capital, had loaned Capital Vision Equities $36 million to buy up the approximately 50 parcels of land that made up the project. When USA Capital dissolved, it became the largest company in Nevada history to go bankrupt, leaving over $962 million in assets, and more than 6,000 investors.
Unable to move forward while most of the properties were mired in bankruptcy court, Councilmember Parks spent the past five years expending significant time, effort and political capital securing funding for the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles (CRA/LA) to purchase nearly all of the remaining properties.
“If there’s one lesson to take away from the past decade, it’s the importance of attaining site control before undertaking a project of this magnitude,” Parks said. “It was unrealistic to expect a lone developer to negotiate with over 40 property owners and 300 tenants. This clearly demonstrates the important role of CRA/LA in assisting and nurturing private investment in our communities.”
On December 29, 2010, a settlement agreement was reached, concluding the lengthy bankruptcy proceedings, leaving one owner – Commercial Mortgage Managers – in control of approximately 80% of the total property, with the CRA/LA in possession or negotiations with the majority of the remaining 20% of the land. CRA/LA’s significant ownership stake will not only expedite redevelopment by eliminating the need for a new developer to negotiate with multiple parties, it puts the city in a strong position to determine what will ultimately get built.
The only portion of the original planned mixed-use development concept – envisioned to offer commercial retail stores, sit-down restaurants and market-rate condominiums – that actually commenced construction was Buckingham Place Senior Apartments, a planned three building complex with 180 apartments for low-income seniors. The first of the three buildings began construction, but was ultimately ordered to stop work when at least three companies forced the property in to involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy, after the developer – Chris Hammond – stopped making payments to construction companies in May of 2007.
The building is over 90% complete, with appliances, carpeting and cabinets already in place, and work remaining to be completed in the hallways, stairwells and trash rooms. In 2010, the City signed a contract with Meta Housing to complete the project, and construction began again in the spring of 2011 to complete the remaining portion of the project. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has provided $8.5 million in federal funding, and over 65 jobs construction jobs were created.
For the past several years, Marlton stood out like a sore thumb amidst numerous development projects and neighborhood improvements in the surrounding community.
- Capri Urban Partners is investing $30 million into upgrading Phase I of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, with an eye toward a major renovation of the mall‘s food court, pedestrian bridge over MLK Jr. Blvd., and a just recently completed $10 million renovation of the old Magic Johnson Theatres, which reopened in May, 2011 as Rave Motion Pictures. The new state-of-the-art theater features stadium seating and the latest digital technology, which can project in 3-D.
- A new 10,000 square foot Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market was approved by the City Council and will be built on a vacant lot on Crenshaw and 52nd street, bringing much needed healthy food alternatives to the residents of South LA.
- Historic Maverick’s Flat, once the premier R&B club of the west coast that hosted the likes of Ike & Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye and Chaka Khan, has undergone an extensive multi-million dollar renovation, having been returned to its former glory by owner/developer Curtis Fralin. Parks’ office and CRA/LA provided over $650,000 in Community Development Block Grant money for the project and close to 50 jobs were created.
-Over $2 million was invested in the recently opened Buffalo Wild Wings in Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, with over 120 permanent jobs created, the majority of which were local-hire.
-Restaurateur Brad Johnson is constructing an upscale sit-down family restaurant in Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, Post and Beam, which is slated to open around the holiday season.
-The MTA’s planned $1.7 billion Crenshaw Light Rail Line will likely spur further development in the area, as well as planned improvements as part of the Crenshaw Visioning Project. That project, $14 million in Prop 1C funds, will provide street and sidewalk lighting improvements, streetscape improvements, new bus shelters, bike racks, street benches and trash receptacles along the Crenshaw corridor.
- In March 2011, Phase I of a planned $22 million renovation project began on the historic art deco Vision Theater in Leimert Park Village, built in 1931 by real estate developer Walter Leimert and eccentric billionaire aviator and film producer Howard Hughes. The CRA/LA purchased the property in 1999, and is working with Councilmember Parks and Department of Cultural Affairs to convert the former movie house into a full-scale performing arts center.