Mall sale sparks diverse community considerations

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By Tisha Greene

Guest Columnist

The announcement of the pending sale of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall to LIVWRK Development earlier last month was met with both cautious optimism and controversy.

The community slant in recent media pieces has focused on inflammatory allegations of buyer ties to Donald Trump and Jared Kushner made by Damien Goodmon and affiliates of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition and Downtown Crenshaw purporting to represent the “community voice.”

However, there are diverse constituent groups in the area most proximate to the mall who do not agree with the opinions, tactics, nor the agenda of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition or Downtown Crenshaw.

The development entitlements for this project were granted in 2018 to Capri Urban Investors, only to be thwarted by litigation initiated by the Crenshaw Subway Coalition. With no clear path forward to redevelop this underperforming shopping center (further compromised by COVID-19 closures), Capri’s institutional investor partner has required the current sale.

Capri paid $136 million for the mall in 2005 and has spent more than $35 million in capital improvements only to be reportedly selling at an undisclosed loss.

Residents were enthusiastic about the prospect of the Capri mixed-used project touting elevated retail, restaurants, and entertainment.

Our residents are not circulating the dollar in our community because they are dissatisfied with the choices we have and are in search of better store options,” said Teresa Humphrey, the president of the Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowners Association. The Capri project would have created an infusion of economic development in the area bringing in new businesses, jobs and training.

While the housing component of the Capri plan sparked spirited anti-gentrification controversy, many community leaders appreciate the market reality that no developer can finance upgraded amenities without a balance of complementary uses, which are likely to include a mix of both market rate and affordable housing.

After delaying the current owner’s development of this site and leading a campaign to oppose the previous sale to the CIM Group earlier this year, Goodmon is fiercely campaigning to stop LIVWRK from purchasing the mall in an apparent attempt to reposition Downtown Crenshaw to purchase the site after losing a competitive bidding process.  “One must wonder what is required to get Mr. Goodmon’s assent and approval for anything to happen with the mall that does not include him and/or one of his affiliated entities,” said John Heath, president of the United Homeowner’s Association II.

The recent reopening of the mall revealed skeletal staffing and operations, a dearth of consumers and stores that have yet to reopen and other empty spaces where former tenant retailers have permanently closed. The financial distress is palpable, so it is clear that continued mall operations are at risk.

A permanent mall closure would become an unparalleled blight in our community, causing tremendous economic damage. The risk of running away viable developers is too high for our community. A new buyer may well decide to avoid neighborhood politics by pursuing a “by-right” development of thousands of market rate apartments.

LIVWRK has committed to engage the community to shape their development plan, which is expected to be a mix of uses. LIVWRK’s first public engagement was last week at a virtual Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council meeting with more than 315 stakeholders.

Crenshaw Manor homeowner Brenda Ashby, who attended the virtual meeting, says her “biggest concern is getting this historical icon sold, before we are faced with another Marlton Square” (a blighted project stymied by political controversy) and then learning “how the plans to redevelop the mall will impact neighbors.”

Many community leaders appreciate the market reality that no developer can finance upgraded amenities without a balance of complementary uses.

Tisha Greene is a member
of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Neighborhood Planning Alliance.