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Community claims victory in shopping center battle

BALDWIN HILLS — Black community leaders took a victory lap this week in response to the news that CIM Group, a Los Angeles-based real estate developer, had dropped its bid to buy the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

“CIM has concluded that the community, the mall, and CIM are best served by us stepping aside,’” CIM Group posted on Instagram June 14. “We wish the community great success in achieving all of its goals for the mall.”

This came after weeks of community protests and a vigorous petition campaign to thwart CIM’s proposed purchase of the shopping center that had served the community since 1947.

“We have declared victory,” community activist Najee Ali said during a press conference June 16. “We’re happy that CIM listened to the voices in the community and stepped aside. Almost 10,000 people from the community signed a petition against the purchase of the mall by CIM.”

To celebrate the victory, Downtown Crenshaw, Black Lives Matter-LA, and Crenshaw Subway Coalition will lead a Juneteenth Caravan/March on the mall at 2 p.m. June 19.

Ali, who called it a “David vs. Goliath” win, said the community wants a developer who is interested in the project that was approved in 2018 that includes housing, retail businesses, dine-in restaurants and local minority-owned businesses as part of the mall. 

Under the 2018 plan, reportedly the current owners, Capri Urban Investors, 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% of the construction jobs and 30% of the permanent jobs created by its project.

“We are not interested in any project that may contribute to gentrification,” Ali said. “We want what this community approved back in 2018.”

“This is a tremendous black victory and a testament to the power of our community,” said Damien Goodmon, executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, who called it an “epic fight.” “This project and process, under the banner of Downtown Crenshaw, has always been about more than just the Crenshaw mall.

“This is about control of our communities, preserving our great legacy, pursuing our destiny. Self-determination. For anyone who ever doubted, when we fight, we win.”

In May, Shaul Kuba, CIM Group principal and co-founder, had 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.

That didn’t sit well with members of the black community who preferred Capri Urban Investors’ massive redevelopment plan and argued that CIM would chase out minority-owned businesses.  

“This is a product of prayer,” said the Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California. “Thank you to CIM for listening to the community. The community was loud and clear about our demands. We were protecting our community treasure.”

Rev. Jonathan Moseley, western regional director of the National Action Network, called it a historic time for the community.

“The people have spoken,” he said. “The victory is won. Now we’re going to take hold of our community and get it done.”

“This was a multi-faceted approach,” said the Rev. William D. Smart Jr., CEO and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, referring to the success of the coalition. “This was truly a community, group effort. This is a sacred space for our community. This is about African American self-determination. We can build in our community for ourselves and people will come. This black power will turn into economic power.”

Former L.A. City Councilman Robert Farrell had begun to speak at the pension fund boards and publicly highlight the role of CIM Group’s investment in the gentrification and displacement of the black community.

“This is the most exciting, ground-breaking and transformative work I’ve witnessed in generations,” Farrell said in a statement. “I’m confident that the mall will soon be in community hands and redeveloped using the principles of community wealth building.”

“We intend to continue the dialogue with the pension fund boards and our allies in labor about how the trillions of dollars in pension fund investments can be redirected away from gentrification and towards community stabilization,” Goodmon said.

“This fight on the mall pushed us to make public the launch of an impact fund to acquire apartments and single-family homes in our community to take them off the speculative real estate market to place them into the Liberty Community Land Trust to make our community permanently affordable to us. With appropriate investment, we can ensure that the residents who make up this unique community can stay in their homes and new housing is built that is affordable for us. It’s the only way we save Black L.A.”

The coalition also cited allegations that CIM had strong ties to President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

CIM officials denied the allegation. “CIM helps communities achieve their goals and supports minority-owned businesses,” the company stated on Instagram. “CIM has no business with, nor is it ‘backed’ by Trump or Kushner. CIM never intended to demolish the historical mall.”

However, when CIM announced it had intended to buy the mall, it also revealed 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.

CIM Group had been in escrow to buy the site, which has been for sale since 2018. CIM owns the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and has become a major landlord and developer in South L.A., especially along the West Adams corridor, where it reportedly owns more than a dozen properties.

“Now that CIM is out of the deal, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition is continuing its effort to find alternative ways to develop the mall,” Goodmon said.

Asked what was next now that the CIM Group has stepped aside, Ali, of Project Islamic Hope, said the community is interested in working with the current owners or the new owners to help make sure the plan approved by the community in 2018 is realized.

Toni Scott is a community member who has lived in the Crenshaw area since 1973.

“This is indeed a great victory,” she said. “This community needs this mall here for us. Support your community. Spend your black dollars here. Spend your money in your community.”

April Muhammad, co-owner of Malik Books, said she was ecstatic when she learned the mall would not be sold.

“Yay,” said Muhammad, who said the store has been in the mall for 20 years. “I’m so excited. I was so happy when I heard the mall would not be sold. This is our mall. It’s black people’s mall. It’s historic. This mall needs to be black-owned. It’s ours.” 

Asked if prayer works, Tulloss, Smart and Moseley said in unison, “Yes it does. Amen!”