Council Committee Orders Study of El Pueblo, Los Angeles Mall

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, City News Service

A Los Angeles City Council committee Monday called for a study into whether city policies have been holding back economic activity at the Los Angeles Mall and El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historical Monument.

Council members on the Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and River Committee instructed city staff to report back in 60 days on what can be done to attract businesses and spur job growth at the two city-owned properties.

The Los Angeles Mall has been plagued by a “number of vacancies” and city officials face difficulty in generating “sustainable economic development” at El Pueblo, according to a motion introduced by City Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes both properties.

The two city-owned sites are exceptions in an area that has seen 93,000 new jobs and around $15.7 billion in investment in the past 10 years, according to Sara Hernandez, a Huizar aide who spoke at the committee meeting.

“Downtown is on the move,” Hernandez said, especially in the Arts District, South Park and the Old Bank District, where a high-end restaurant, Bottega Louie, has announced plans to expand by another 20,000 square feet to accommodate a test kitchen and employee training facilities.

Hernandez suggested officials look into “how the city structures” its requests for bids from tenants and developers, “what type of regulation is really stopping quality businesses from coming into these city-owned properties” and how best to “market these properties.”

The appearance of the Civic Center, where the Los Angeles Mall is located, took somewhat of a beating today from Committee Chair Mitch O’Farrell, who said the retail complex and the surrounding area is “stuck in 1975.”

“You look across the mall, and it’s a little underwhelming,” O’Farrell said. “And you got the brutalist architecture that surrounds us, and it just doesn’t exactly scream `Come visit me. This is a quality experience we can have here.”’

In addition to serving downtown court houses and city and county government buildings, the Los Angeles Mall is in the vicinity of several performing and cultural arts attractions such as the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Music Center.

O’Farrell added there is no pedestrian-friendly way of getting from the Civic Center to the El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historical Monument. The two sites are divided by the Harbor (101) Freeway.

El Pueblo General Manager Chris Espinoza suggested an eight-year legal battle stalled activity at the historic Pico House, a hotel that was commissioned by Pio Pico, the last governor of California under Mexican rule.

Espinoza also said a conspicuously large central air conditioning unit – roughly the size of a “submarine” – also detracts from the desirability of the property for redevelopment projects.

However, Espinoza said the city has several projects in the works, including a $22 million project to restore the historic Merced Theater, which is next to the Pico House.

City officials plan to move the city’s Channel 35 cable station from the Union Bank Building in Little Tokyo into the El Pueblo theater space, which means cable operator tax revenue could be used toward the theater’s restoration, Espinoza said.

Councilman Gil Cedillo, citing complaints from El Pueblo merchants, said city policies appear to be “undermining” efforts to revitalize the historic plaza. He pointed to challenges such as inadequate parking, the lack of accommodations for tour buses and the under-utilization of historic buildings.

Cedillo noted city officials held a retreat at the Pico House recently and found the building lacks bathrooms.

Cedillo last week lamented the lack of recognition paid to El Pueblo’s place in history, saying it is often seen as a “Mexican tourist attraction” rather than as the city’s birthplace.

The plaza was the site of a pueblo, or town, settled by 11 founding families that eventually became the center of social and political activity for the growing community and that later grew into the city of Los Angeles.

The area, now designated a state park, is home to the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, the Chinese American Museum, the new Mexican-American museum LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and the Olvera Street marketplace.

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September 26, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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