Lead Story Local News West Edition

Leimert Park stakeholders foresee a thriving artery of culture, commerce and entertainment

LOS ANGELES — Imagine a scenic thoroughfare of commerce and culture in South Los Angeles, brimming with live theater, weekly social events, bustling galleries and businesses, and plenty of parking.

That is the vision — and so much more — for Leimert Park Village: 2020.

Teeming with pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, abundant lighting and stylish seating beneath native trees, this is the Leimert that can revive the historically black cultural village and revitalize much of South Los Angeles, stakeholders say.

It’s a dream that’s become a reality for Little Tokyo, Chinatown, downtown Culver City and Olvera Street — and now South L.A. stakeholders are looking to replicate that livelier, tourist-attracting scene for this previously overlooked African American business and arts community.

And plans are underway to make it so.

Part 2 of 2

A massive collaboration of city and county government agencies are partnering with residents, business owners and community organizations to build a better Leimert Park as the area readies itself to become a station stop along the Metro’s 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX Line.

“Metro has become a game changer, so we have to focus on the next five years — we can’t sit around until it happens,” said James Burks, special projects director for the city of Los Angeles’ Department of Cultural Affairs. “We have to have an idea of what we’d like to see happen.”

Small storefronts make Leimert Park a quaint part of South Los Angeles, but civic leaders and property owners hope there is more in store for the future of the community. (File photos by Gary McCarthy)
Small storefronts make Leimert Park a quaint part of South Los Angeles, but civic leaders and property owners hope there is more in store for the future of the community. (File photos by Gary McCarthy)

By the time it opens in 2019, the $2.058 billion light-rail line, which connects the Green and Expo lines, will be the only main arterial in the city linking rail passengers to downtown Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, West Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Airport (LAX). The South L.A. hub will be thrust into the center of progress in the Southland.

Much of the new vision for Leimert Park is connected to the restoration of the Vision Theatre in 2017, said Burks, the theatre’s director and a principal in the village’s 20/20 Initiative. The group organized in 2014 — and includes business and cultural stakeholders from Regency West, Eso Won Books, Sika, KAOS, The World Stage and Art + Practice and others — to formulate ideas for rebranding the community, and become the cultural and business caretakers for its renovation.

One project, installed earlier this year, was the pedestrian plaza featuring a blanket of West African Adinkra symbols painted in front of the theatre. Within the next two years, plans are being put in place to set up a much-awaited café next to the theatre that will provide jobs for area youth.

Key to the initiative is a focus on luring small, community-based businesses and services to the area — rather than big box stores — that are more in line with the cultural vibe of Leimert Park Village.

“It’s about recognizing the diversity within the African American community, and planning with that diversity in mind,” Burks said, noting a desire to attract business owners who are Afro-Pacific Islanders, Afro-Asians, Afro-Mexicanos, Afro-Latin Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, Afro-Native Americans, African Americans and Africans.

“There are a variety of businesses that those cultures make up, that we have never focused on, that can become part of the businesses of Leimert Park,” said Burks. “So it’s going to be gentrified. But let it be gentrified by the African diaspora.”

And for that vision to work, observers say, it will take a village.

“The energy and the interest [from varying agencies] is an asset,” said Nick Saponara, director of Joint Development and Countywide Planning and Development, the real estate arm of Metro. “Everybody has a role to play, and having others involved has really helped us to unlock the potential in some respects.”

Beyond the business and infrastructure plans, Leimert stakeholders are making provisions to bolster security in the area and help transition homeless residents from the area to a more stable living environment.

Their efforts were bolstered this week when the Los Angeles City Council called for plans to earmark $100 million to the growing homelessness crisis throughout the city, with an additional $100 million a year to pay for permanent housing and establish a dedicated foundation to manage the crisis.

“If we can lift up those in need, and pick up those left behind, then we can live up to the best of our ideals,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Metro is doing its best to promote Leimert during its construction phase. Its promotional campaigns, “Eat, Shop, Play Crenshaw” and “Open for Business” video series, are designed to encourage residents to shop locally.  On Sept. 17, Metro awarded The New Millennium Beauty & Barber Shop $15,000 in Business Interruption Funds intended to helps small businesses directly impacted by the rail line construction.

“We want to make sure, and Metro wants to make sure, that these businesses survive so they can reap the benefits of the coming rail lines,” said Mark Robertson, president and CEO of Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Corporation. “But the businesses need customers at this point – not just this money, but money from customers as well.”

Lonlon Teky, owner of Amy’s Shop — a six-month old hair salon and beauty supply shop on Crenshaw — is one of those South L.A. stakeholders hanging onto hopes for Leimert’s brighter future.

“In five years, it’s going to be excellent and we’ll make everything back,” she said. “We just have to survive these next five years.”

Editor’s note: For the first part of the series, see http://wavenewspapers.com/leimert-parks-future-on-the-line/