EWDD Considers Two Proposals for CRA/LA-Owned Lot at Mariachi Plaza

The lot at 1st and Boyle. to the right (across Boyle), an affordable housing project is being built. At a lot adjacent to Mariachi Plaza (where image was taken from) development will like come in the form of housing and commercial retail space. (Google maps)
The lot at 1st and Boyle. to the right (across Boyle), an affordable housing project is being built. At a lot adjacent to Mariachi Plaza (where image was taken from) development will like come in the form of housing and commercial retail space. (Google maps)

The Economic and Workforce Development Department (EWDD) recently reported that it was considering two proposals for the development of the vacant lot at 1st and Boyle, just across the street from Mariachi Plaza. It received the proposals in response to a 78-page Request for Proposals (RFP) released this past May, which had detailed the specifics of the property, the history of the area and the community’s aspirations for the site, and the requirements for the project as well as those governing the application process. [See the full RFP here: PDF]

Considering the prime location of the property – across the street from a transit station in a historic and culturally vibrant neighborhood just outside of downtown – it might seem surprising that only two proposals came in.

But the RFP had been pretty clear about what would be asked of a developer.

The property is one of a number of assets owned by the CRA/LA, the successor to the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). At the time of the dissolution of the CRA in 2012, it held nearly 400 properties across Los Angeles. The majority were put up for sale in the summer of 2015.

Given the significance and/or transit-oriented development (TOD) potential of some of the properties, however, the city entered into option agreements with the CRA/LA, securing its ability to guide the development of ten such parcels. The option agreements, drawn up at the end of 2014, allow the city to purchase the properties outright at fair-market value or sell them to a third-party developer that is willing and able to adhere to land uses in line with the redevelopment objectives for the community in question.

In the case of Boyle Heights, that means not selling the parcel to the highest bidder, but rather to a developer that can work within the objectives laid out in Adelante Eastside Plans and the area’s Community Plan and that is able to respect the community’s needs.

The community, for its part, has been quite vocal about its needs.

The lot had once been home to laundromat. It was acquired by the CRA in 2009 because of its TOD potential. The city appears to have assumed that, when added to the commercial developments planned for the two Metro-owned lots behind Mariachi Plaza and the opening of the Gold Line in 2009, “revitalization” of the area would naturally follow.

But the development never materialized and the lots have sat (largely) empty and blighted ever since.

Meanwhile, the community has continued to lament the loss of the laundromat and other amenities (including a market) when the lots were acquired and the existing structures were razed. So much so that when both Metro and the city held workshops about the future of the lots earlier this year, those were the first things the community asked for (in addition to housing that would be affordable to the lowest income folks, of course). [See earlier stories on the CRA/LA-owned lot and the Mariachi Plaza lots.]

To the city’s credit, the community’s concerns feature prominently in the RFP for the CRA/LA-owned lot.

Specifically, the EWDD declared its interest in promoting the economic well-being of the community via job creation, the improvement of the local environment, and, potentially, the construction of affordable housing. Interested developers, it specified, must therefore have some experience working in neighborhoods comparable to Boyle Heights (in terms of scale and demographics), a strong understanding of the significance of the cultural heritage of the community and how it relates to a vision for the future of the area, experience in outreach and engagement, respect for the scale and cultural markers of the community in design, universal design to ensure all could be accommodated, and sufficient parking.*

The RFP also asked that any housing built be affordable, with consideration of extremely low- and very low-income families, and that any retail be neighborhood-serving (possibly in the form of a laundromat, a neighborhood market with fresh food options, or office space serving local community organizations). Should the developer wish to pursue and open-space project, the RFP stated, the needs of multi-generational families – especially the very young and the very old – must be considered.

As one might imagine, a project where the bulk of the benefits accrue to a community in need may struggle to be sustainable on its own. The RFP therefore asks applicants to identify funding gaps as well as city incentives or public assistance needed to bring the project to fruition. It also makes clear that, at the moment, the city does not have any funding set aside for such a project and notes that projects maximizing private financing and minimizing public assistance will score higher.

Even with these conditions and the relatively small size of the lot (approximately 14,000 square feet), it appears the community may be getting what it asked for. The proposed disposition plan doesn’t offer too much in the way of specifics, but does say that the “anticipated development plan is a mixed-use project that would include affordable housing and commercial retail.”

How affordable any affordable units will be remains to be seen, as does the kind of retail the project is able to attract. But it seems to represent a step in the right direction.

Either way, we will likely know sooner rather than later. Because it is a CRA/LA property, the project needs to be moving forward by early 2017 (according to CRA/LA representatives at a community meeting earlier this year). Meaning that, once the EWDD selects a finalist, it will move quickly to enter into an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with the developer.

Screen Shot 2016-12-14 at 8.14.53 AM
The EWDD’s timeline for next steps. Source: EWDD staff report

We will keep tabs on the project as it moves forward.

In the meantime, other affordable housing projects planned for the Metro-owned lots in the area could use your input.

  • On Tuesday, December 6, 2016, 5:30 – 8 p.m., the East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) is hosting a community meeting regarding the project planned for 1st and Soto Streets. The specific topics of the meeting will be transit-oriented development and retail. More details can be found here.
  • On Wednesday, December 7, 2016, at 6 p.m., the Boyle Heights Design Review Advisory Committee (DRAC) will review the draft Development Guidelines for the Metro-owned site at Cesar Chavez and Fickett. These are the guidelines that will be sent out in an RFP to developers. Contact Vivian Rescalvo at rescalvo[at]metro.net or 213.922.2563 for more information.
Both meetings will be held at Puente Learning Center, 501 S. Boyle Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 90033.
***

*Parking is a major concern in the area. For purely logistical reasons, on a street that is jam-packed with restaurants and other businesses people tend to frequent on their lunch hours (tailors, trophy shops, etc.), parking is restricted on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from noon to 3 p.m. for street sweeping. While the city and Metro clearly both assumed that visitors would use the Gold Line to get to the areas around Mariachi Plaza, that hasn’t panned out. That station actually sees some of the fewest boardings. And folks coming to the area’s restaurants are often from around the Southland (Downey, Pomona, etc.), and can’t easily get to the community via transit, even if they want to. Or they are coming for a big purchase order of trophies and can’t carry them onto the train by themselves. So, while parking across the street from a transit station seems like a waste to some, business owners in the community still see it as key to their survival.

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