The long anticipated redevelopment of the Jordan Downs housing project got underway this week with Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Joe Buscaino proclaiming a turning point for Watts.

The $1 billion plan seeks to convert the 700-unit site into a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood of 1,410 units with 160,000 square feet retail space, nine acres of green space and a new recreation center.

The plan has been in the works for nearly a decade and was delayed due to funding shortages and the discovery that soil at part of the site was contaminated with lead and other toxins from its past use as a steel factory.

“Phase 1A” of the project will include 115 rental apartments in 12 buildings on 3.15 acres and is expected to be completed in 18 months. A second phase will begin later this year and should be completed by early 2020. None of the existing housing will be demolished during the first phase of the development; any residents displaced in the future will get first option of returning, according to developers. Construction workers will consist of locally-hired personnel.

“We envision a generational and mixed-income community that will connect to the surrounding area,” said Ernesto M. Vasquez, CEO of SVA Architects who designed the new housing community. “Jordan Downs will no longer be an ‘island’ separated from the larger community. It will be an integral part of Watts in which residents may live, shop and work in a modern, upscale environment.”

Making wise use of existing land was at the forefront of any redevelopment plans not only in Watts, but in South Los Angeles in general. Kimberly McKay, executive vice president for BRIDGE Housing, one of the developers of the project, said the goal was to provide needed services to the Watts community while keeping an eye on affordable housing.

“Our experience with large-scale public housing revitalization demonstrates how we can enrich the fabric of communities, make wise use of land and pair stable homes with the services people need to thrive and grow,” McKay said.

A “demolition” ceremony at Jordan Downs was held last year that featured people taking sledge hammers to some of the buildings, which were built in the 1940s for World War II workers along the old Alameda Industrial Corridor, and converted into public housing in the 1950s.

Over the decades, Jordan Downs gained a notorious reputation as one of the most dangerous and crime-ridden areas of the city, as it was one of the flashpoints of the Watts riots in 1965 and also the location of violent gang warfare in the 1980s and early 90s.

“It is truly an honor to be part of such a significant—and long overdue—project for the city of L.A,” Vasquez added. “Where deterioration and devastation once reigned, a thriving and sustainable community will emerge.”

In 2009, the city of Los Angeles annexed 42 acres of land adjacent to Jordan Downs to increase the size of the area about 119 acres. The Housing Authority of Los Angeles has reportedly invested more than $45 million toward the project, which is expected to generate roughly $1 million annually in new tax revenue and create up to 200 permanent jobs. The development may also create some 6,400 full-time equivalent jobs during the construction phases.

Part of a long-range development objective that also includes the Central Avenue Master Plan, critical phases of the Jordan Downs redevelopment include one-to-one replacement of existing public housing units, extension of Century Boulevard between Wilmington Avenue and Alameda Street, and continued development of neighborhood-serving retail outlets. There will be mixed-use opportunities for high-tech, light-industrial companies, new educational and recreational facilities, and enhanced community programs.