LA Mall Purchase Would Be the Biggest Victory Yet for Community-Driven Development

The solidarity economy is looking for a statement win. A headline-grabbing, underdog victory in prime time against a big, blue-blooded competitor. The Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza mall in Los Angeles could be that statement win.

They formed a nonprofit entity to take ownership of the mall, called Downtown Crenshaw. Over the past year they successfully rebuffed two bids from outside investors, and at a March 24 press event they went public with the $28 million in donations they’ve raised for a down payment on the property. Remarkably for a philanthropic effort, they’ve already got the $28 million in the bank, held in trust, ready to wire over at a moment’s notice. But now they’re saying the brokers for the property have stopped responding to them and have instead accepted another bid at a lower price. Downtown Crenshaw says they have enough investor interest to match any legitimate price offered for the property.

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New York Times: Black Empowerment Outside the Headlines

Essentially the plan — which has the slightly pared-down name of Downtown Crenshaw — is about building and keeping Black wealth within the community. It calls for reinventing the mall as an “urban village” that would build on some things that already exist and include retail, park space, offices, affordable housing, a boutique hotel, a cultural center and production studios. For the project, Downtown Crenshaw Rising has enlisted outfits such as SmithGroup, an architectural firm that helped design the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, and MASS Design Group, a Boston-based firm that helped design the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama.

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Los Angeles Times: Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza shopping mall to be sold to New York developers

“The bottom line is that this battle is not over, it is simply the latest saga to wrestle control of the Crenshaw Mall out of the hands of those who would do the Crenshaw community harm and into the hands of the community,” according to a statement by Downtown Crenshaw Rising released by Goodmon. “We’re going to focus our energy on continuing to organize the people, further strengthening our offer and the people-supported plan.”

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This L.A. mall could be reinvented as housing and worker-owned co-ops

When the mall came up for sale last year, community groups analyzed proposed redevelopment plans and argued against them, arguing that the new housing that was planned for the site would end up displacing thousands of people who lived nearby. “That’s typically how organizations engage—we don’t like the project, we say don’t build it. They say build it. And then we come to some consensus where everybody’s not really happy, right?” he says. Goodmon and others started talking about an alternative: Instead of continuing to negotiate for months with a prospective owner, they could try to raise the millions of dollars necessary to buy the building themselves.

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Wall Street Journal: A Los Angeles Mall Gets Snarled in Charged Debate Over Local Ownership

Local residents say the opposition to the CIM redevelopment can be traced to the 2008 financial crisis. After a rash of foreclosures, investment firms bought homes in South Los Angeles that they turned into rentals, spreading worries about pricing out local families.

In the economic recovery, the demographics near the mall began turning more affluent and more white, said Paul Ong, director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge. “I think the big fear was around Crenshaw Plaza accelerating that,” he said.

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Wave: Mall battle is about more than it appears

With gentrification now becoming a buzzword for seismic urban change, the battle lines were now tightly drawn in the debate over whether gentrification and development, or at least the types of development it brought, were a good or bad thing for poor Black and Hispanic communities. Developers, a slew of government officials and real estate moguls are solidly on one side repeatedly citing the supposed benefits: more jobs, a spur to businesses, more and better housing, schools and services, and spruced up public space.


Community activists and legions of residents counter with their checklist of bad things it purportedly will bring: homelessness, displacement, unaffordability, racial tensions and erosion of the decades of racial and cultural cohesion that ironically forced confinement to racially segregated neighborhoods.

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Democracy At Work: Economic Update: Social Movement Gains in L.A.

WOLFF: Tell me something, Nikki, that I know is in the minds of our audience. How do you account for the success that you just described? Why were people as responsive to your efforts as they've turned out to be? Why were so many drawn in? I mean, the complaint on the side of progressive movements like yours is so often that, yes, we have a few people, but it's hard to get folks kind of on board, to get them moving, mobilized. You seem to have tapped into something. Can you help us understand what that might have been?

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Los Angeles Standard Newspaper: Downtown Crenshaw bids for their 40 acres and a mall, but are turned down

“At every single step to buy the mall, they’ve thwarted us,” Goodmon said.  “They denied our bid, as a Black collective, pushing forward a Black community focused vision, for this Black and Brown Crenshaw community.  But they didn’t just deny our bid.  They denied the bids of multiple Black development teams; multiple teams that had far more experience, far more community support, far more community understanding (than LIVWRK).”

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Wave: Group opposed to Crenshaw mall sale turns up heat

“I want the sale stopped because it’s about Black ownership,” said the Rev. William D. Smart Jr., CEO and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California. “Personally, our community deserves to have Black ownership. The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza is one of the most sacred spaces in our community. We should have the opportunity to own that building.


There were three bids put in by Black groups who had the capacity to get this done. I believe in Black determinism to determine our own communities,” he added.

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Culver City Observer: Black Community Thwarts Second Attempt by Trump-Kushner Connected Developer to Buy the Crenshaw Mall

"This is a tremendous Black community victory and testament to the power of the people," said Niki Okuk, the Board President of Downtown Crenshaw Rising. "Downtown Crenshaw stood up and defeated LivWrk-DFH Partners, an unqualified out-of-town Trump-Kushner development partner, who sought to do harm to our beloved Crenshaw. On behalf of all of the leaders of this movement, we extend a heartfelt thank you to the nearly 13,000 people who signed our petition and sent in letters, hundreds of community organizations and civic leaders who stood united, and the many activists who took to the streets, from the powerful Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles crew to Grandmamas of Downtown Crenshaw. We have shown that when we come together to defend our community, not even the powerful business partners and close friends of the president's family can defeat us.

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