LOS ANGELES — Developer CIM Group has backed out of plans to buy the iconic Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza shopping center, following pressure from black community leaders who argued the purchase represented gentrification and was a threat to South L.A. and its economic interests.
A virtual community meeting to discuss next steps for the mall is planned at 6:30 p.m. June 15 on the Downtown Crenshaw Facebook page.
“CIM has concluded that the community, the mall and CIM are best served by us stepping aside,” CIM Group posted on social media June 14. “We wish the community great success in achieving all of its goals for the mall.”
The Los Angeles-based company had been in escrow to buy the site, which has been for sale since 2018. CIM owns billions of dollars of real estate throughout the United States, including the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, and has received tens of millions of dollars in government loans and tax subsidies for its massive real estate deals.
But a group of housing justice advocates, community groups and civic leaders opposed the purchase, arguing the company would chase out minority-owned businesses. The coalition also claimed that CIM had strong ties to President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
CIM officials denied those claims.
“CIM helps communities achieve their goals and supports minority-owned businesses,” the company stated on Instagram. “CIM has no business with, nor is it ‘backed’ by Trump or Kushner. CIM never intended to demolish the historical mall.”
CIM’s plan would have scrapped the previously announced redevelopment that was planned by the current owner, Capri Capital Advisors LLC, one of the nation’s largest minority-owned real estate companies. Capri’s plan, endorsed by local elected officials and community leaders, called for building 1,000 mixed-income housing units and a 400-room hotel on underdeveloped portions of the property.
Crenshaw Subway Coalition Executive Director Damien Goodmon called CIM’s decision not to purchase the property a win in what’s been an “epic fight.” He said, “This is a tremendous black victory and a testament to the power of our community.”
Another community leader who spoke out against the purchase was the Rev. William D. Smart Jr., CEO and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California and a local pastor. He called CIM’s plans a “hostile takeover of the most iconic African-American retail space west of the Mississippi River.”
When CIM announced its purchase plans in April, co-founder Shaul Kuba said the company believed it to be a “pivotal location in a well-established Los Angeles community, centrally located.” He said he saw opportunity within the space, where two large anchors, Sears and Walmart, closed their doors prior to COVID-19’s shuttering the entire mall. At the time, Kuba called the company’s plans “a fresh perspective … viewed through the lens of the current climate and the acceleration of the already declining retail environment.”
CIM had no plans to build residential units.
“Since 1947 this property has been a commercial property, and although current entitlements allow residential components, we believe that residential uses are not suitable for this property and it should remain a commercial property in our repositioning,” Kuba said at the time.
Now that CIM is out of the deal, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition is continuing its effort to find alterative ways to develop the mall, garnering support from more than 150 community organizations and leaders, as well as 10,000 signatures, who would like to see the community buy the mall and surrounding properties, Goodmon said. That alternative plan and process has been dubbed Downtown Crenshaw.
“This fight on the mall pushed us to make public what we’d actually been working on for the past year: the launch of an impact fund to acquire apartments and single-family homes in our community, to take them off the speculative real estate market, to place them into the Liberty Community Land Trust, to make our community permanently affordable to us,” Goodmon said.
“With appropriate investment we can ensure that the residents who make up this unique community can stay in their homes and new housing is built that is affordable for us.”
Former City Councilman Robert Farrell said he and others will continue to speak publicly — as they did against CIM’s purchase — to highlight the role of public pension fund investments in the gentrification and displacement of black communities.
“We intend to continue the dialogue with the pension fund boards and our allies in labor about how the trillions of dollars in pension fund investments can be redirected away from gentrification and towards community stabilization,” Farrell said. “I’m confident that the mall will soon be in community hands and redeveloped using the principles of community wealth building, and that the Liberty Community Land Trust through the stabilization fund will help relieve the displacement pressures on this incredible community.”
Liberty Community Land Trust founding board chair Akili, also representing Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, said, “When our community comes together we can achieve anything. The breadth of community support and this incredible community victory is a testament to the power of the vision behind Downtown Crenshaw and our ability to organize both in the streets and in the halls of power.
Black Lives Matter-LA, Crenshaw Subway Coalition and Downtown Crenshaw also are leading a Juneteenth Caravan/March on the mall at 2 p.m. June 19.
The mall is located at Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards.