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When traveling north through South Los Angeles, the gleaming downtown skyline may remind one of sentinels that overlook an often neglected community historically shut off from modernity. And while the City of Angels hosts the tallest building west of the Mississippi, and Exposition Park will soon witness a futuristic museum coupled with the “landing” of the space shuttle, the old “South Central” portion of town is undergoing a makeover not witnessed in many generations.

Fabulous USC Village

The change may have begun in earnest last year with the opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Watts. Since then, nearby Jordan Downs is being redesigned from the ground up, and plans are in the works for “Mudtown Farms,” an agricultural collective adjacent to the housing development. These are only a few of the new development projects either ongoing or in the planning stages for the historically neglected community that was home to some of the city’s first Black households arriving shortly after World War II.

The biggest new development so far is the USC Village, encompassing 15 acres at 32nd and Hoover streets in North University Park. The $700 million project is a public-private partnership with the lofty hopes of bringing together one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods with one of the nation’s wealthiest universities. It opened this month to offer three million square feet of student housing, retail, academic and green space. Local residents will comprise 30 percent of workers at the 15 new restaurants, as well as Trader Joe’s grocery store, a Target department store, and a pharmacy. Stipulations were made for preferential hiring of veterans, formerly incarcerated and/or “disadvantaged” workers, persons with disabilities and those with a history of homelessness. As well, USC has reportedly made a pledge of $20 million to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund which is meant to offset concerns about how the addition to the neighborhood may drive up the already prohibitively high cost—and shortage of—affordable housing.

The USC Village is just one of several substantial construction projects in or near Exposition Park. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will undergo significant renovations after the 2017 NFL and college football seasons, and there’s the soccer-specific Banc of California Stadium rising up where the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena once stood. Each stadium is expected be used for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

New sports stadium

The new soccer stadium, coming in at a reported $350 million, will host Major League Soccer’s newest franchise upon completion, and is expected to provide 3,000 jobs (40-percent local hire, or 1,800 permanent and 1,200 during the construction phase), and add an expected $2.5 million annually to the city’s general fund.

Honda of Downtown Los Angeles, 740 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., is expected to open by the fall of 2018 and become the Japanese auto giant’s biggest showroom on the west coast. The five-story, 210,000-square-foot dealership is expected to create a jobs program specifically for nearby residents. Officials with Honda have agreed to donate a minimum of $100,000 to Los Angeles Trade Technical College to help stimulate education in the automotive service-tech fields. They’ve also agreed to donate a minimum of $50,000 to the Figueroa Corridor Business Improvement District to initiate upgrades south of the Figueroa Corridor which is generally the heart of South Los Angeles.

“Since 2013, we have ushered in more than $3 billion in development projects and real estate investment here in our community,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Curren D. Price (Ninth District). “Not only do these major projects provide meaningful job growth, but I have insisted—and will continue to demand—commitments to local hire.”

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, scheduled to open in 2021, will occupy 15 acres along Vermont Avenue across from USC within the western portion of Exposition Park. Motion picture director/producer George Lucas and wife Melody Hobson made a commitment earlier this year to engage the local community in the project both during construction and in its long-term operation. Specifically, the couple helped to spearhead a project-labor agreement with the Los Angeles/Orange counties building and trades councils to include apprenticeships during the construction phase which will not only provide valuable work experience to young people going into design and construction, but also provide opportunities for life-long careers in these fields.

George Lucas, Melody Hobson join campaign

Also, the Lucas Museum will provide a local access and education program, establish a local artists program to engage artists from South Los Angeles and, importantly, maintain a local hire program for workers who reside within a three-mile radius of the museum for permanent positions across a wide range of job classifications.

At one time, the only high-rise structure in or near South Los Angeles was the Juanita Tate Towers (formerly the Mt. Zion Towers) at 47th Street and Central Avenue. The days of vacant lots and blighted sightlines are rapidly coming to a close. In the area, five new hotels are being proposed which may create thousands of new jobs and generate millions of dollars to the city’s general fund.

The Los Angeles Convention Center is expected to host the first of these new hotels, this one with 1,000 rooms. The Vagabond Inn at 31st and Figueroa streets is expected to be transformed into a 275-room facility, while “The Fig” will occupy a full city block at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Figueroa Street. This 21-story facility will actually serve as a mixed-use campus to include 298 rooms, 222 student housing units, 186 mixed-income housing (82 units of affordable housing for low-income families) and almost 30,000 square feet of commercial space.

Hotels and affordable housing

Not far from this project is the proposed 2222 Figueroa, adjacent to the 23rd Street and the Flower Metro Expo Line Station. The new hotel is expected to replace the existing Texere Plaza with a pair of high-rise towers with 968 residential units.

One of the most highly anticipated projects in South LA has been The Reef at 19th Street and Broadway. The mixed-use residential-retail development is expected to transform what is now 1,100 parking spots into a vibrant place to work and reside. The Reef will include 1,444 residential units, a 208-room hotel, a full-service grocery store, retail shops and restaurants, and a fitness center with showers and lockers. More than 2,600 construction jobs will be available—600 full-time jobs after completion—and like other development agreements nearby, 30 percent of the workers will be hired locally. The development agreement is there to secure $15 million for the Affordable Housing Trust that may help to finance future projects in South Los Angeles. Also, a reported $3 million has been set aside for the Community Benefits for Job Training program, and also for various other youth job training opportunities.

“When you combine these projects, they are helping to bring more than 8,000 jobs to the Ninth District,” Price continued. “They also happen to provide a wealth of resources, opportunities and community benefits in the region such as millions of dollars for affordable housing; inclusion of opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses; the establishment of a small business loan program, not to mention millions of dollars in direct community benefits to local organizations that will provide job training, youth and recreational programming.”

Historic Central Avenue

Around South Los Angeles, 11 sites have been tentatively identified for affordable housing. In all, just over 500 new units for affordable housing are expected to be completed over the next few years. Last year, more than 160 families were provided new “rent-restricted” dwellings in South Los Angeles.

Historic Central Avenue and the surrounding thoroughfares have not been left out of the redevelopment plan. With the addition of the Juanita Tate Marketplace at Slauson and Central avenues, and the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park at 54th Street and Avalon Boulevard, this portion of South Los Angeles is making remarkable strides toward modernization. Thirty-two units of permanent supportive housing for transitional youth and homeless persons are scheduled to rise at 69th and Main streets. The Florence Mills Project (3501 S. Central Ave.) and the Paloma Terrace at 5000 S. Main St. are each coming soon to provide housing to 135 families.

The Residences On Main, a multi-family project at 6901 S. Main St., will include a community garden. More than 32 units will provide affordable housing. Also, historic St. John’s Church at 514 W. Adams Blvd. may become a mixed-use site with residential uses and open space adjacent to the church.

Parks and recreation space have always been at a premium in South Los Angeles. The County Department of Recreation and Parks reported a few years ago that the South Los Angeles region has the least amount of recreational space of any area in the county. In addressing this shortfall of green space, the city has set aside more than $40 million to be invested in either new parks (pocket parks) or refurbishment of existing facilities throughout South LA.

Improved, expanded park space

At Gilbert Lindsay Recreation Center (42nd Place and Avalon Boulevard), new synthetic turf has been installed, along with a new irrigation system, improved lighting, and a 10,000-square-foot skate plaza. New playground equipment and sports facilities now grace the Slauson Park Recreation Center, while venerable South Park will soon witness the restoration of its historic “Palm Alley” with new picnic tables, walking/jogging paths, synthetic turf, an outdoor fitness complex, security cameras, and improved lighting.

The South Los Angeles Wetlands Park may witness soon a true artistic transformation. The Los Angeles Museum of Art has expressed interest in expanding their operations into South Los Angeles and has entered into a lease agreement with the Department of Recreation and Parks to help renovate the old Metro facilities building on site. They’d like to bring it up to code and develop space for art-related and educational programs. Multi-purpose community rooms, a viewing gallery, and a new ranger station will be included.

It is estimated that just over 700 units of new affordable housing will be available for occupancy in South Los Angeles over the next three years. Price said it is important to preserve existing affording housing that are currently at-risk of conversion to market rate to prevent more low-income residents from falling into homelessness.

Shiny new buildings and manicured parklands would likely go for naught without an emphasis on street maintenance. So far, more than $4 million has been dedicated to the area to clean-up debris from alleys, graffiti abatement, hundreds of more trash cans on street corners, and a sharp crackdown on illegal dumping. Crumbling sidewalks are being resurfaced, overgrown trees are being trimmed regularly, and residential streets are being repaved.

Attracting world-class industry

“These are basic services that everyone in Los Angeles should expect—and are entitled to receive—regardless of one’s zip code,” Price explained. “In the end, we want to make sure these and the many other projects taking place in the community include meaningful investments to help ‘all ships rise with the tide.’ It’s not easy, but some amazing things are happening in the ‘New Ninth.’”

There may be more in store for the South Los Angeles-Compton region. County officials are actively courting Amazon to build a second home, possibly in Los Angeles County. Earlier this month, the world’s largest retailer announced it was shopping for a new home (preferably a minimum of 500,000 square feet) to possibly generate more than 50,000 full-time jobs. Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas (Second District) believes the Amazon move could be one of the biggest “game changers” to ever hit the region.

“Los Angeles has already become a world-class destination for technology companies, and we expect Amazon’s presence to continue to improve economic stability and expansion through the region,” Ridley-Thomas said. “If Amazon does arrive, it could mean an economic benefit to the county of more than $750 million over the next 15 years.

Ridley-Thomas’ district encompasses South Los Angeles, therefore he has made significant strides in helping to revitalize portions of community and believes the next few years will witness even more positive outcomes.

“My priority is to ensure that the quality of life of my constituents is elevated through investments in the public facilities that we rely on and enjoy each and every day,” Ridley-Thomas said. “Whether it is a new rail line, library or affordable housing development, these amenities can truly transform neighborhoods, improve property values and inspire civic pride.”

Rapid change is taking place in South Los Angeles. The future looks bright as the sometimes forgotten community springs forth with new vitality and prosperity.