By Cynthia Gibson
LEIMERT PARK — A coalition of African-American community stakeholders and residents are requesting that the new owners of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza enter into negotiations with them to purchase an ownership stake in the mall.
Community activist Najee Ali, New Life Institutional Baptist Church Rev. Nathaniel W. Morgan and Los Angeles Urban Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson held a press conference Oct. 5 calling on the Harridge Development Group to sell the grassroots coalition a 51% stake in the mall.
“Black stakeholders should be able to buy a majority percentage of ownership in a property that has been part of our community for decades,” Ali said. “We respect that Harridge bought the mall, but we want them to be a fair business owner and understand that we should have Black self-determination in our own community.”
The Harridge Development Group purchased Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza from Capri Investment Group, a Chicago-based private equity fund, in August for a reported $111 million.
In a separate transaction, Harridge also purchased the mall anchor store, Macy’s, for an estimated $30 million. According to Harridge CEO David Schwarzman, the Los Angeles-based real estate developer plans to spend about $1 billion over a seven-year period to revitalize the mall, which was originally built in 1947.
In a press release, Harridge said it is moving forward with renovation plans approved by the L.A. City Council in 2018, which include a 400-room hotel, a 148-square-foot office building, apartments and condos as well as new shops and restaurants.
Efforts to reach Schwarzman for a comment on the latest partnership request were unsuccessful.
Coalition members would like to be owners with a majority say in the revitalization plans for the mall.
“There should be a desire on the part of the new ownership to at least have a goodwill gesture to the community,” Rev. Morgan said. “We’re not going into this blind. We realize we need to put some skin in the game in order to make a viable investment and a majority stake.”
Ali said the coalition has lined up Black investors with substantial financial resources that are interested in purchasing a controlling interest in the mall.
“It’s just a matter of us trying to negotiate with Harridge,” he said. The coalition will be submitting a written request to discuss ownership in the upcoming week.
The coalition’s effort to purchase a majority ownership stake in the mall follows a failed attempt by another African-American community group to purchase the mall.
According to Downtown Crenshaw Rising Executive Director Damien Goodmon, a collection of more than 300 community organizations and 2,400 members submitted an offered to purchase the shopping center for $115 million – $4 million higher than the Deutsche Bank bid that was accepted by mall owners.
“We submitted a fully financed offer, a plan that was developed for the community and were told we were not qualified to do the project,” Goodmon said.
Protests by Downtown Crenshaw Rising and other community groups led to two separate purchase offers by Deutsche Bank followed by New York real estate companies Livwrk and DFH Partners to be rescinded. The new coalition requesting ownership is not affiliated with Downtown Crenshaw Rising.
Schwartzman said Harridge plans to create a project that “Revitalizes the mall, preserves retail, creates housing and creates jobs.”
Whatever plans Harridge has in store for the mall, Hutchinson said they will need the cooperation and support of the community.
“If you’re asking people from Ladera, Windsor, View Park, Baldwin Hills and Leimert Park to patronize the mall, you’re going to have to give something back in return,” he said. “It has to be a true partnership with the community. That’s not just a consumer-owner partnership. It has to be an owner-owner partnership.”
Cynthia Gibson is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com.