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Victor Ahaiwe and Corinthian Ugdan are frustrated. For at least the last decade, the two entrepreneurs have struggled to keep their doors open and their businesses running as smoothly as possible in the face of a Marlton Square building project which began with high hopes of developing a top-notch mixed-use retail-residential development. But instead, over the course of almost 20 years, the project has gone through several developers and is on the way to having a third one.
The two business owners have braved piles of dirt in a common parking lot; checks for their land that have bounced; and now they are sitting in a limbo that they say is created by the reality that does not allow them to pack up and move their business, if they want to collect payment.
Adding to the confusion of the whole situation is the fact that the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is expected to close escrow on the old Barker Brothers/Swapmeet building any day. The property is located on the northwest corner of the site. The agency is also negotiating to try and purchase and take control of seven additional properties that have remained hold-outs over the last decade plus.
Marlton Square, formerly the old Santa Barbara Plaza, is a $155.9 million mixed-used retail and housing development set on 19 acres in the Crenshaw District. It is bounded by Martin Luther king Jr. Boulevard to the north, Marlton Avenue on the East, Santa Rosalia Drive to the South, and Buckingham Road on the west. An additional three-acre site for a 180-unit senior housing complex adjacent to Marlton Square, called Buckingham Place, was also part of the project and was initially projected at $27 million. In addition to the senior housing, 140 single-family homes and 150 residential condominium units are supposed to be constructed on the site. The Marlton Square Development Project was approved by the city in 1984 and actually includes the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Mall, which was completed in 1995. Plans for the Santa Barbara Plaza portion have been in the works since 1990, when the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) amended its redevelopment plan for the area to include the former shopping center. Initially envisioned as a retail-only project, market forces and rumored conflict between then-Eighth District Councilman Mark Ridley Thomas and the chosen developer–Magic Johnson–threw the project off track. According to Joyce Perkins, chair of the Community Advisory Committee for the Marlton Square Project, the 1992 civil unrest prompted city officials to expand the redevelopment area and that plan was approved in 1995.
According to Carolyn Hull, regional administrator for the South Los Angeles CRA region (which encompasses the project), the agency is working proactively to acquire the remaining properties at a fair market value.
She expects this to happen by the end of the year, then CRA intends to move forward and develop a mixed-use project that will feature affordable housing on Santa Rosalia Drive between Marlton Avenue and Buckingham Road. There will also be single- family homes down part of Buckingham, Santa Rosalia, and Marlton; and the retail portion would occupy the space where the Barker Brothers/Swapmeet building is and along King Boulevard.
Hull said CRA also intends to bring a consultant into the picture who will work with tenants and property owners to make sure they clearly understand their options. And finally Hull said she expects that as the project moves forward CRA will see “a great deal of community input.”
CRA is looking forward to working with whoever buys the rest of the Marlton Square property, added Hull, noting that the agency is focusing on gaining site control of the remaining land parcels.
While CRA is moving to acquire the hold-out properties and jump-start a mixed-used portion, another slice of the property controlled by developer Chris Hammond is in the process of foreclosure.
A Notice of Default was filed at the end of 2007 by Compass Financial Partners LLC against Hammond, owner of about 18 acres of the property and foreclosure action is pending against the land.