After more than 15 years of networking, fundraising, politicking and dreaming, Barbara J. Stanton is nearly within arms’ reach of seeing the Watts Star Theater and Education Center jump from paper to reality.
And if all goes according to plans and hopes, she will break ground on the 34,000-square-foot project before years-end. The doors to the facility will open 18 months later. The center will feature four movie screens with a total of 1,001 stadium-style seating; a teleconference center; cinema training area with state-of-the-art equipment, editing bays, a sound room; and a business development facility.
One of the final steps in the years-long project was cleared last month, when the Los Angeles City Community Redevelopment Board of Commissioners approved an agreement that gives Stanton and her organization the right to develop a two-acre piece of land adjacent the Blue Line Light Rail’s Kenneth Hahn station into the cinema and education center. The center will lease another three acres from the Metropolitan Transit District for a parking lot.
Now the agreement goes to the Housing and Community Development Committee chaired by Councilman Herb Wesson, and if passed, it moves on to the full council for a vote the following Tuesday.
The final major funding hurdle to clear after that, said Stanton, who is founder and executive director of the Wattstar is approval of L.A. City’s application for $16 million in Recovery Zone Facility Bond funding.
“The application went to the state Friday (Aug. 13) . . . and our chances for getting it are pretty good. We are a prime project,” said Stanton, noting that Wattstar was one of only two organizations submitted to receive the funding. The other was the Selma Hotel in Hollywood.
“We are working with banks (like City National, and entities such as the Annenberg Foundation) that could actually purchase the bonds.”
The Wattstar was also included on the list of five projects the County of Los Angeles submitted seeking recovery bond money. Now Stanton says, after all the approvals are completed, it is just a matter of which direction she will go.
In addition to the Recovery Bond money, Stanton and her supporters have already raised $10 million toward the project.
Stanton said the state must make a decision by December.
The Wattstar executive director estimates 270 jobs will be created during construction.
“We have a local hiring policy built in, and we want to work with the contractor to make sure that African Americans, particularly, are hired,” Stanton said.
Once the structure is finished, she expects that another 45 permanent jobs will be created, and 30 small businesses a year will be developed.
“. . . We are looking for viable businesses. We want to get businesses started up in the Wattstar, like maintenance companies, merchandising companies,” explained Stanton, who said the virtual incubator on the second floor of the facility will play a crucial part in nurturing start-up and growing businesses.