By Darlene Donloe
BALDWIN HILLS — The leaders of Downtown Crenshaw will hold a “Crenshaw Mall Takeover” event from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct.17 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.
It might be too late.
For the second time this year, Black leaders and community activists find themselves in a fight to stop the sale of the 40-acre shopping mall.
It was learned last week that LIVWRK and DFH Partners (a woman-led, New York-based commercial real estate investment firm) had been selected by Capri Urban Investors to acquire the 40-acre property and that they had reached an agreement to acquire the mall located at 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The mall has been controlled since 2019 by Capri Urban Investors, a Chicago private equity fund of institutional investors.
The sale is expected to close before the end of the year. No price was disclosed, but previous offers have topped $100 million.
Officials from LIVWRK and DFH Partners did not reply to requests for comment.
Asher Abehsera, the founder of LIVWRK, told the Los Angeles Times he plans to talk to community residents before deciding on a plan to redevelop the mall.
“A project of this scale affords a mix of uses,” he said.
“We see a singular opportunity to invest and participate in this very special property in the heart of the Crenshaw corridor,” said Rochelle Dobbs, founding principal of DFH Partners, in a statement reported by The Times. “We are excited to work hand in hand with LIVWRK and leaders throughout the area to ensure this property remains a vibrant community anchor for decades to come.”
The mall, with a Cinemark movie theater, reopened last week, but only at 25% capacity following COVID-19 protocols. The struggling center had previously lost anchors Walmart and Sears. Its Macy’s department store and IHOP restaurant are not included in the pending sale.
Capri secured entitlements in 2018 to add two million square feet of new construction there, including nearly 1,000 residential units, a 400-key hotel, a 10-story office building, and 300,000 square feet of new retail and restaurant space.
Abehsera denied claims by Downtown Crenshaw leaders said President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was tied to the project.
“Neither Jared nor his family have any investment in my company or this deal,” Abehsera said. “I have had no involvement with Jared since he went to work with his father-in-law, President Trump.”
But Damien Goodmon, the leader of Downtown Crenshaw, has his doubts that Abehsera plans to confer with residents about the mall.
“Confer with residents about what?” Goodmon asked. “The ‘confer’ part is a public relations ploy. Why would anyone believe them? They simply regrouped and changed the PR people. It’s the same damn people.”
Goodmon said after CIM Group backed out from an agreement to purchase the mall last June, Downtown Crenshaw “never thought this fight was over.”
“Absolutely not,” he said. “We knew it was one step. Now we’re going to appeal directly to the pension fund boards.”
Other community leaders remain vocal about their opposition to the sale.
“It is crucial that this stays in the hands of African Americans,” said the Rev. William D. Smart Jr., CEO and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California. “Don’t get it twisted. We can do this, but it needs to be African American led.”
The mall “deserves to stay in our community,” said the Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California. “At the end of the day, we will do all we can to fight against any outside developers coming into our community. For us to be overlooked and pushed to the side is a tragedy. Us as a community will fight tooth and nail to get this mall into the hands of the community.”
Goodmon said a local coalition had put together a solid bid for the mall, but it was turned down.
“Downtown Crenshaw started a dream team,” said Goodmon, who is also the executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition. “We came together and put together a credible offer. We submitted our bid on time — and still, they would not give us this opportunity.”
Jackie Ryan, a Downtown Crenshaw Rising board member and co-vice chair of the Black Community Clergy Alliance, has been in the community for 70 years.
“We have the right to determine what happens in this community,” she said. “We work here, worship here, play here, and have education here. We have the right to develop our culture. We can’t allow imperial, colonial entities to come in here and disrupt the space that we occupy.”
John Gonzales, a representative of the Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowners Association, said he has had discussions with LIVWRK and is optimistic that improvements to the mall won’t turn into “a gentrification bomb” for the neighborhood.
“We do not want this to be tied up,” said Gonzales about the pending sale. “The key is to protect the neighborhood and make it as beneficial to everyone as it can be.”
Asked to respond to Goinzales’ comments, Goodmon said, “What they’ve done is gone and found a small number of minority people who simply don’t share the same concern as their neighbors.”
It’s Goodmon’s hope that local Black politicians will voice their opposition to the sale of the mall.
“We’d like our politicians to find their courage,” Goodmon said. “We’re going to demand the politicians speak out against this and in favor of Downtown Crenshaw. We will expect that their actions with what they suggest we do as a community at the ballot box should be the same as what we do with this sale. If not, in the words of Ricky Ricardo’s character in ‘I Love Lucy,’ ‘You got a lot of splaining to do.’”
Goodmon said even though it’s a David vs. Goliath situation, the community is not giving up. They are determined to keep the mall in the hands of the Black community.
“It’s hard when you’ve got freedom in sight,” Goodmon said. “What we’ve started with Downtown Crenshaw is both a project development, but more importantly, a movement. We have shown people what they’ve always known. When Black people come together, we can do amazing things. This is a project whose time has come.
“People fought too hard in this community in order to live and stay in this community,” he added. “Those people don’t want this Black community to be in charge of their own destiny. We’re going to throw everything at them but the kitchen sink.”
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.