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Demolition begins on South L.A. Marlton Sqaure shopping center

8/5/2011, 6:50 a.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--The city's General Services Department began demolition on a South Los Angeles shopping center the city has sought to tear down and redevelop since the Bradley administration.

Officials hope the demolition of Marlton Square, formerly known as Santa Barbara Plaza, will finally lead to the 20-acre site being redeveloped after decades of starts and stops. The shopping center is near the intersection of W. Martin Luther King Jr. and Crenshaw boulevards.

"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," said Councilman Bernard Parks, who was on hand for the ceremonial start of the demolition process.

"Today we can finally turn the page on the problems of the past and begin a new chapter as we clear the way for future development."

Marlton Square has experienced an on-again, off-again development process that dates back to former Mayor Tom Bradley, who expressed interest in redeveloping the site in 1984.

Former Lakers star turned real estate entrepreneur Magic Johnson had put forward a plan for the site in 1996, but was ultimately outbid by private equity firm Capital Vision Equities in 2002.

Capital Vision's lender went bankrupt in 2006, and the firm defaulted on the project, leaving nearly 50 properties at Marlton Square in limbo in bankruptcy court.

The city's Community Redevelopment Agency has since acquired about 20 percent of the properties, while bankruptcy proceedings have led to another owner, Commercial Mortgage Mangers, holding the rest.

"Clearing these properties is a small but important step forward ... to revitalize Marlton Square, which we consider South L.A.'s biggest economic development opportunity," agency Chief Executive Officer Christine Essel said.

The demolition is expected to be complete in early December.

Parks aide Dennis Gleason said there are a number of developers in the wings interested in building on the site.

"This development is part of the rebirth for the entire Crenshaw corridor," said an aide to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes Marlton Square.

"What's possible there now is further enhanced by the imminent availability of transit service," said the supervisor's senior deputy for economic development, Dan Rosenfeld.

He credited the agency for shepherding the project through an extraordinarily complex set of technical and legal requirements. "I don't think we have ever seen a real estate knot that was more tightly tied," Rosenfeld said.