Business West Edition

Black clergy voices opposition to mall sale

BALDWIN HILLS — A local coalition representing 300 black clergy members has joined the fight to block the sale of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, one of the biggest malls in Los Angeles.

At a June 10 press conference outside the Hancock Park offices of CIM Group, the coalition voiced its strong opposition to the giant real estate firm’s plan to buy the 40-acre property, arguing that it threatens South L.A. and its economic interests.

The group, which carried protest signs that read, “CIM does not look like Baldwin Hills” and chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, CIM has got to go,” also interjected what one pastor said was the power of prayer.

“God, lead our effort in shining light on this dark situation,” said the Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California.

“We protested outside of CIM’s offices because we wanted to make them aware that they are going to have hell in convincing us that they want to invest within our community,” Tulloss added. “We are serving notice that we don’t need their investment in our community.”

“This is just the start of a series of protest events we will organize against CIM’s plan for the plaza property,” said the Rev. William D. Smart Jr., CEO and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California.

In May, Los Angeles-based real estate developer Shaul Kuba, CIM Group principal and co-founder, announced the company had signed a purchase and sale agreement to pay more than $100 million for the property, located at Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards and would reposition the property by ditching prior plans for residential use to instead renovate the 869,000-square-foot mall into office and other commercial uses.

“What we need is more housing and real jobs,” Smart said. “What we need is to protect the existing minority-owned businesses that are now tenants in the plaza’s mall area.”

Kuba said in a statement that despite having entitlements in hand, the company believes “that residential uses are not suitable for this property and it should remain a commercial property in our repositioning.”

“CIM has no meaningful ties to and no relationship with our community,” said Tulloss, who is the pastor at Weller Street Missionary Baptist. “We are hoping they won’t buy the mall even though it’s in escrow. Wherever CIM goes, there’s gentrification.”

Tulloss was referring to CIM, which owns the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, becoming a major landlord and developer in South L.A., especially along the West Adams corridor, where it reportedly owns more than a dozen properties.

CIM is reportedly buying the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza from Capri Urban Investors, a private equity fund managed by Capri Capital Partners Group, which reportedly bought the site in 2006 for $136 million and invested $35 million in renovations. Its Macy’s department store and IHOP restaurant are not included in the sale.

CIM plans to scrap at least the residential portion of Capri Capital Partners’ massive redevelopment plan for the 40-acre property, which was to add nearly 1,000 residential units, a hotel, office space and more retail.

“Are they going to hire people of color?” asked Rev. Jonathan Moseley, western regional director of the National Action Network. “When you say you’re going to have businesses and affordable housing, I’m always concerned. Affordable to whom? CIM’s plan would destroy our history. I’ve lived in this community since 1961. That mall has been a historical landmark for years. Now, this is going to be another piece of history taken away from us. It’s not good for business or black people or the community. We are not gaining ground we are systematically losing ground with anything having to do with our culture. It’s a shame.”

The black clergy members join other community leaders who oppose CIM’s plan.

Armen D. Ross, Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, called the proposed sale a “sad day,” and added it was a “travesty for the community.”

Damien Goodmon, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Crenshaw Subway Coalition called CIM “the gentrification beast.”

Community activist Najee Ali said the sale would be the “nuclear bomb of gentrification” landing in the community, which represents the “heart and soul” of black Los Angeles.

Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents the 8th District where the mall is located, said in a statement that CIM’s announcement “Demonstrates an uninformed, ahistorical and premature analysis” that overlooks “Hours of hearings, legal proceedings, and other community involvement.”

For decades the community has been trying to use the mall as a way to revitalize the area and thwart chronic disinvestment in South L.A.’s black community, which has been struggling more recently with displacement and gentrification.

“The approval of the 2018 Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza development plan was a major victory for the African-American community, and it is a victory the community will not easily abandon,” Smart said. “We want it to stay with black people. CIM doesn’t have the cultural background to understand what we need there. It needs to be black-owned and black-controlled.

“For me, it’s a sacred place. It’s the heart of what’s left of the black community. I don’t want it to go down like this.”

Under the 2018 plan, Capri reportedly agreed to build 961 mixed-income residential units, a 400-room hotel, 143,000 square feet of office space and 330,000 additional square feet of retail and restaurant space. Capri also agreed to hire local residents from 26 surrounding zip codes to fill 30 percent of the construction jobs and 30 percent of the permanent jobs created by its project.

In the meantime, Moseley, 65, said the coalition continues to pray for the mall. 

“We pray for the mall and those in charge that God would change their heart to see our side of it,” he said. “At some point, you have to think about the people.”

A retail institution in the heart of the black community, Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza dates back to 1947 with the opening of Broadway and May Co. stores, complemented by shops and restaurants.