New Hopes Raised at Marlton Square

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CRENSHAW DISTRICT — After several setbacks, residents residing near Marlton Square expressed mixed emotions about the demolition of city-owned properties in the area, saying they are glad to see a step forward but are not convinced that developers or city officials will rebuild in a timely manner, based on past experiences.

“I have lived in this area for over 30 years when this was the Santa Barbara Plaza. This used to be a place that I was proud of. It seems like every year Marlton Square has gone down,” said Tamika Johnson. “If you look, there are a number of vacant properties. They do nothing but bring down our property values and make those who have to walk by or drive by feel hopeless. It’s a shame because if you look at areas like Beverly Hills, the buildings are kept up and the streets are clean. The medians have flowers and grass. When you live somewhere like that you feel good about life and its possibilities. Now look at Marlton Square, you see nothing like what you would find in suburban areas. It does nothing for the [morale] of this community.”

Jeffrey Holmes is delighted “that they are finally tearing down some of these buildings. They look ugly,” he said. “The paint is peeling, the grass and weeds are overgrown. There is nothing pleasant about this place. For years I’ve been looking at these empty buildings.”

Still, he wants to know: What’s next? “They promised for years that they would rebuild this area and nothing has happened for one reason or another,” Holmes added. “I hope they don’t tear down these buildings and leave the [rubble] behind for years until they find someone to come in and do something with it. We deserve better and want better.”

Janet Taylor-Dupri didn’t know how to interpret the demolition, she said, adding that “it seems as though when something is torn down here it takes years for something to replace it. Sometimes we get better than what we had before, and sometimes we don’t. I think that newer, more modern buildings will really help this area and the community. We have all the construction going on with the mall. Why not have something that is just as nice?”

Last Thursday marked the beginning of demolition of city-owned properties in Marlton Square. With Rep. Maxine Waters, Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks and other officials on hand, a group of about two dozen people celebrated as an excavator destroyed one of a number of blighted buildings that have plagued the area.

“The community has watched for nearly two decades, as Marlton fell into despair and became an eyesore, attracting a variety of problems like illegal dumping, arson and vandalism,” Parks said. “Today, we can finally turn the page on the problems of the past [and] begin a new chapter as we clear the way for future development.”

Moving forward with the development of the 20-acre shopping center on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard has been a major priority for local elected officials, including former Mayor Tom Bradley, who sought to redevelop the property — then known as Santa Barbara Plaza — as far back as 1984, said Waters. She praised the work of Parks; Christine Essel, CEO of Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles; Kenneth Fearn, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Redevelopment Agency; Douglas Guthrie, General Manager of the Los Angeles Housing Department; Richard Benbow, General Manager of the LA Community Development Department; and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“I know that it took us a while to get here today. I was very disappointed when developer Capitol Vision Equities defaulted on its loan and then stopped work on this development,” Waters said. “The ensuing bankruptcy litigation left the families who live in this community in limbo. And it left Buckingham Place, which would have provided much needed housing for the elderly, incomplete.”

According to city officials, the Buckingham Place Senior Apartments was the only segment of the originally planned mixed-use development project that commenced construction. The anticipated three-building complex with 180 apartment for low-income seniors saw the first of three phases begin, but work halted when at least three companies forced the property into involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy after developer Chris Hammond of Capital Vision Equities stopped making payments to the hired construction companies in May 2007.

Currently, the building is over 90 percent complete; appliances, carpeting and cabinets are installed, but work remains to be done to the hallways, stairwells and trash facilities.

The tumultuous history of Marlton Square dates back to 1984 when Bradley sought to turn the shopping center around. Former Los Angeles Laker-turned-real estate entrepreneur Magic Johnson won the negotiation rights in 1996, but after spending five years working through the City of Los Angeles’ planning and entitlement process, lost the battle when the development deal was given to Hammond’s firm. However, the development group was unable to carry out the project and defaulted in 2004.

Adding further delay, Capital Vision’s bank went bankrupt two years later. According to city officials, Las Vegas-based USA Capital had loaned Capital Vision Equities $36 million to acquire approximately 50 parcels of land, but when USA Capital dissolved, it left behind over $962 million in assets and more than 6,000 investors.

Unable to move forward while the properties were tied up in bankruptcy court, Parks said he spent half a decade trying to secure funding so that the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles (CRA/LA) could purchase most of the remaining buildings.

“If there’s one lesson to take away from the past decade, it’s the importance of attaining site control before undertaking a project of this magnitude,” Parks said. “It was unrealistic to expect a lone developer to negotiate with over 40 property owners and 300 tenants. This clearly demonstrates the important role of CRA/LA in assisting and nurturing private investment in our communities.”

A breakthrough was not reached until late 2010, when a settlement agreement was reached, leaving one owner, Commercial Mortgage Managers, in control of roughly 80 percent of the total property, with nearly 20 percent of the land in the possession of CRA/LA.

Having the CRA/LA involved will speed up redevelopment, Parks said, because the agency will omit the need for a new developer to negotiate with multiple parties and aid the city in determining what will eventually be built on the site. The original vision included commercial retail stores, sit-down restaurants and condominiums.

Source: The Wave

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