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South LA Community Group Loses Bid to Acquire Crenshaw Mall Despite Offering the Most Money

Downtown Crenshaw Rising offered $115 million, but the mall’s current owners chose another developer

“SOLA” Proposal Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A South LA community group seems to have lost the battle over the ownership of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, which locally known as the Crenshaw Mall. Community group Downtown Crenshaw Rising (DCR) says their $115 million offer for the property was passed over last spring, despite being the highest bid.

Since 2017, the Crenshaw Mall redevelopment has gone through the ups and downs of city council approval, amendments, planned use agreements, and bids that included a reimagined mixed-use complex with restaurants, 961 new condos and apartments, 400-room hotel, new offices, and a retail space. At present, the Crenshaw Mall has limited retail tenants, but still offers a food court with Chile Verde and Charley’s Philly Steaks. Just outside in the adjacent parking lot are Hotville Chicken and Kickin’ Crab. The mall also had a well-known previous tenant, Mexicano, which closed in late-2019. Mexicano was an offshoot to the longstanding Bell restaurant La Casita Mexicana.

The sale of the South LA mall reveals a complicated mix of activism and gentrification. In 2020, development company Brooklyn-based company LivWrk, which was affiliated with former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, placed a bid to acquire the mall. DCR and community groups built a coalition to ensure the mall and its development plans stayed under local control. Ultimately the mall’s current owner and brokerage firm DWS, a global financial services firm affiliated with Deutsche Bank, rejected the LivWrk bid. Pressure from DCR also compelled local development firm CIM Group to withdraw its $100 million bid in June 2020.

DWS recently awarded the bid to Harridge Development Group, an LA-based developer with large-scale mixed-use projects throughout Los Angeles, including the McCadden Apartments, the Metropolitan, and the Silver Lake. Harridge won the bid with financial backing from Russian American billionaire oil tycoon Leonard Blavatnik.

In a story by Spectrum News, South LA residents say they’re worried about gentrification displacing Black-owned businesses. DCR had brought in local Black architect Atelier Cory Henry, along with 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, to work on the Crenshaw Mall redevelopment. Though DCR’s bid included local collaboration, philanthropic donations, and other investments, as well a professional and well-capitalized team, DWS sided with Harridge, which has a track record of successful developments in LA. If the transaction closes by July 30, the historic mall will move forward with Harridge’s development, which reflects the elements of the project approved by the city council in years past, including a hotel, office spaces, new restaurants, and more.

DCR’s proposal had key aspects designed to preserve certain characteristics of the historic Black community. After raising $59.5 million dollars, including $34 million in philanthropy, DCR wanted to build 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. Their proposal also included a hotel, restaurants, office space, and educational facilities.

Though they came with a solid plan and the highest bid, DCR says they were consistently rejected in favor of non-local and non-Black developers. DCR’s concern is that other prospective owners would further contribute to displacement in South LA.

A DCR spokesperson noted that there is still time to stop the sale (in the same manner against LivWrk), which closes on Friday. Eater LA reached out to Harridge Development Group but has not yet heard back. DWS has declined to comment.

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