A Black community group in South Los Angeles was rejected from purchasing a historical downtown LA mall despite offering the highest bid, according to recent reports.
Downtown Crenshaw Rising (DCR) offered $115 million to purchase the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, affectionately known as the Crenshaw Mall, in 2020. However, the mall’s current owners, brokerage firm DWS Group, passed them over in favor of Harridge Development Group, a popular LA developer, Eater LA reported.
“It’s really about facing gentrification,” Damien Goodmon, one of the leaders of DCR, told Spectrum News. “We’re coming together to assert that Crenshaw will [continue to] be a Black space.”
This isn’t the first time the community has come together in an attempt to keep the mall under local control. LivWrk – which is associated with Jared Kushner, former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law – and CIM Group both tried to acquire the property last year. They were unsuccessful due to DCR and other community groups forming a coalition to stand against them.
Now that DWS has awarded the bid to Harridge, DCR is trying to prevent the sale from becoming final. They are worried if the sale goes through, further gentrification and displacement of Black businesses will occur.
“This mall is the center of Black commerce in Los Angeles. It is the most critical Black commercial asset in Los Angeles and thereby in Black America,” Goodman said at a recent protest captured by ABC7.
His sentiment was echoed by business owners and residents of the community. “We deserve to have literature, books, and cultural and diverse materials that speak to our voice and our people,” said Malik Muhammad, owner of Malik Books, which has been in the mall since 1994. “This is more than just a mall. It’s a cultural hub. In this location here, we have a voice.”
“It’s not going to be something that’s going to help our neighborhood. The money is going out of our neighborhood,” Crenshaw resident Barbara Walton added when asked her opinion on Harridge acquiring the mall.
Goodman and his DCR partner, Niki Okuk, said there has been a strategic effort by DWS to prevent the LA mall from being under Black and local control. According to DCR, DWS has favored non-Black, non-local buyers such as Harridge, whose bid is financially backed by Russian American billionaire and oil tycoon Leonard Blavatnik.
DWS denied the accusations in a statement to ABC7. “We welcomed all potential buyers, including community groups, to participate in the bidding process. The winning bidder was selected based upon a number of factors which include both purchase price and proof of adequate financing, as well as development expertise,” the company said. DWS added it “conducted a thorough and fair bidding process and has engaged diligently and constructively with community leaders about the purchase of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.”
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Harridge also released a brief statement that said, “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there and due to current legal constraints, we cannot comment at this time.”
However, DCR refuted both groups, stating they are highly informed and have a solid plan for the LA mall that will help the Crenshaw community and preserve its Black legacy. According to Eater LA, DCR’s proposal included “affordable housing, job training programs, a six-acre park, daycare facilities, recording studio, entertainment production district with theater, and a permanent home for the SoLA Food Co-Op.” Plans also included “a hotel, restaurants, office space, and educational facilities.”
DCR also bought in a top-tier team, which boasts local Black architect Atelier Cory Henry alongside SmithGroup, which was part of the team behind the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Mass Design Group, which worked on the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, Next City reported.
Community members maintain that DWS’ decision to reward the contract to Harridge was racially motivated. “It feels incredibly dismissive that we would come with a professional and well-capitalized team, not to mention thousands of community members and organizations coming out to support,” Okuk said. “And yet DWS wouldn’t accept our call or bid.”
***Article Image: Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza 1988 renovation. Image: Flickr / Atomic Hot Links / Public Domain***