The Marlton Square redevelopment project has been drastically unsuccessful. TWO DISCLAIMERS: 1) there are many parties to blame, 2) although the CRA was involved, this happens to be one of the worst projects in their portfolio of otherwise useful community redevelopment projects. These events take place in Los Angeles, CA. Events like this happen throughout the world.
Where’s the optimism you might ask? It’s under the surface –distinctly relevant in the fact that if we can learn from and listen to one another, mistakes of the past don’t have to be mistakes of the future.
PROJECT BACKGROUND:Former Businesses at Marlton Square prior to this project:
• Vons Grocery Store
• Two gas stations
• Clothing stores frequented by residents
• African American Culture and Wax Museum
• Important community services, especially regarding the elderly.
1984: Tom Bradley sought to reinvest in the aging Santa Barbara Plaza
1. Very little evidence of blight
2. Stores located there were economically viable and considered part of the community
3. Many community services and services for Senior Citizens.
1996: Magic Johnson’s development firm wins rights to Marlton Square, after four years of attempting to assemble the entire project area. 36 property owners and 300 different businesses/tenants complicated the project.
1999: Despite Magic Johnson being a respected and established developer in the region, the Marlton Square project was given to Chris Hammond under the direction of City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas after Hammond claimed to be able to assemble the properties without the use of eminent domain.
2000: Chris Hammond of Capital Vision Equities outbids Magic Johnson and takes over project officially.
2004: Capital Vision Equities defaults
2004-2007: Chris Hammond and Capital Vision Equities bring in other equity partners including Jeff Lee of Lee Homes, Pacific Retail Trust, LNR Properties, and USC football star Keyshawn Johnson. These partners left and replaced one another over this span.
2007: Chris Hammond stops making payments to construction companies.
2010: Meta Housing receives $10 million in HUD and CRA funding and takes over project area ($8 million from HUD, $2 million from CRA)
2011-2012: Kaiser Permanente in negotiations with CRA to purchase Southern portion of property for the development of medical office buildings.
• One local developer who chose to speak to the Sentinel on the grounds of anonymity said, “Hammond has screwed this deal up so bad that at this point no one wants to touch it as long as Hammond is around—Chris is just a bad guy, he cannot be trusted.”
• City Controller Laura Chick warned against relying on Chris Hammond, who she felt had questionable creditworthiness and reliability, as well as a number of previously bounced checks. There are also copious lawsuits pending against Hammond for various reasons. Keyshawn Johnson, who was brought into the Marlton Square project quite late, is currently suing Hammond and his related companies.
• Those most affected by the redevelopment disaster are the residents and local business owners who relied on this commercial center. Loretta Jones, a representative from the non-profit “Healthy African American Families” stated, “Chris Hammond was a nightmare”. “To date he still has not paid me all of my money, but because of a confidentiality agreement he made me sign I cannot tell you how much I agreed to relocate for or how much I still have not been paid.”
The question remains: What is lined up at this point and how does it pencil? Why take a bid to demolish if there is no bid to develop? If another decade goes by without a feasible solution, crime will continue to rise near Marlton Square.
William Chun of the CRA referred to the destruction of the remaining units as, “the physical representation of progress.” We feel that these buildings, despite their lack of use, would be heavily utilized if the surrounding conditions –such as sidewalks, green space, shade, and amenities –were improved. What the 1954 aerial photograph shows us is that many of the small businesses were in buildings which we estimate were built between 1960-1975. This leads us to two final thoughts:
1. These buildings were fully functional and structurally sound when the area was first designated for redevelopment.
2. Why not invest the money slated for demolition into small business loans, adaptive reuse of the existing structures, and a genuine investment in Marlton Square.