Africatown – Los Angeles
A Commercial Real Estate Development in a Cultural Framework
Africatown is designed to be a major Southern California tourism destination. The master plan is one of interlocking relationships– wherein each component fuels and feeds off the other; this leads to efficiency and sustainability. It is a redevelopment that emphasizes positive revenues; jazz, history and art museums, and various other cultural attractions; beauty and safety; community support, and, importantly, jobs.
An oasis in a flat, moribund area, Africatown will become the economic catalyst for the Crenshaw corridor, from Jefferson to Florence Avenue, setting high benchmarks for the nascent redevelopment of South Los Angeles. It is an event whose time has come, guaranteed to add millions to the local and citywide economies.
The vision of Africatown is that of a gleaming Ruby encircled by rows of glittering diamonds–a magnet that is at once beautiful and vibrant with live entertainment venues, museums, festivals, dozens of shops and boutiques; eclectic and high-quality restaurant choices; and new, extraordinary architecture among classic art deco buildings. The Ruby Rocks! It’s fun! It’s cultural. It’s educational! It’s Africatown!
Africatown is in the hub of African culture, entertainment and business ownership in the City of Los Angeles. Leimert Park (a City-owned park) is in South Los Angeles at the intersection of Crenshaw and Vernon. Only the decaying commercial district surrounding the park will receive this new name for its focus and upliftment.
• Five (5) new museums including a jazz/blues museum and an art museum; a children’s area that they run with cafe and science/inventions museum; a wax museum; a New Orleans heritage club.
• A major arts, culture and entertainment academy with master entertainment figures (many already who teach here); the numerous and diverse businesses will offer hands-on workshops and classes.
• Film and television studios, sound stage and training center to produce digital films, content for ipods, cell phones, DVD’s, and videos for the marketplace; and a revenue center for sustainability.
• An elegant boutique hotel — to be known for its luxury, beauty, service and business accoutrements.
• Enhanced gift shops, boutiques, variety and excellence in food choices; a vibrant business scene.
“OUR GOAL IS TO CONSTRUCT A DESTINATION that will ride the cutting-edge of design, beauty and cultural amenities far into the new century.”
The diverse and numerous facets of the global African culture allow for this depth, variety and beauty.
The rows of diamonds (the surrounding neighborhoods) receive special benefits from: entrepreneurship and jobs, access to property rehabilitation funds, a safer environment, community pride and cultural permanence.
JOB CREATION: Tourism is the primary provider of employment in Southern California. A 1999 study reported that with a 1/2 of 1% increase in area tourism, approximately $23 million in added revenue and 200 new jobs would be created by developing Leimert Park to its fullest potential as a tourist attraction. Tourism is critical for economic development, for business stability, for safety and security, and for greater opportunities.
The business district of Leimert Park is a natural site for a major African cultural tourism destination because:
(3) Cultural tourism is the No. 1 generator of City revenue (L.A. Times, 3-2004).
(2) Marketing can be coordinated with the Visitors Bureau, travel agencies, et al
(1) At least 75% of the shops and merchandise are already Afro-centric, which
increases cooperation in the desire to create something extraordinarily Wow!
NECESSITY OF AN AFRICAN CULTURAL TOURISM SITE
There is no official land-based site to validate nor showcase the extraordinary achievements and culture of African peoples for their children nor for tourists. Such a situation creates a perception that African-Americans do not exist in this city–or are marginal. An Africatown would remedy this.
A land-based site is also important because it is a sign of economic and political strength–or lack of. The Anglo population is highly commemorated and visible with the numerous museums (The Huntington, The Getty, et al) and commercial developments (Beverly Center to Bunker Hill, etc.).
And, there are 12 designated ethnic and/or cultural sites; this one is needed for the same reasons these are:
THE MISSION of this project is to showcase and share the awesome history and beauty of the diverse African peoples while providing infrastructure and means for economic growth and sustainability, job creation, as well as understanding and peace among all people by sharing African arts, culture and entertainment.
The theme for Africatown is: We, the International People.
BUILT-IN SUSTAINABILITY AND JOBS
The synergy among the various entities and attractions should ensure the viability and vitality of the area as they complement each other. Each entity is designed to achieve profitability, such as the Academy described below; which will surely be a major player in the education industry, attracting students from around the world.
We build in profit: To ensure part-time jobs for youths; sustainability of museums and marginally profitable, yet critical, cultural sites; sustain the Vision Theatre.
THE ACADEMY: Modeled after the Thelonious Monk Institute at USC and using the numerous visiting artists who have already perform(ed) (such as Dr. Art Davis, Billy Higgins, Ahmad Jamal, etc.) at the various venues in the Village, these luminaries will have the opportunity to share their knowledge and skills within the confines of what will become a first-class institution. Instructors and classrooms will come from the present merchants and the community. The internet will increase enrollment and exploit all marketing opportunities.
Background and Beyond
It is important to know that years of work, thought and consensus building have gone into planning for this cultural destination– so this is not an out-of–the-blue, one-person effort! The area is already known around the world for its Afro-centric culture, entertainment and ambience. As the haven of the Los Angeles African cultural scene, statistics show that within the City of Los Angeles, the Leimert Park area has the highest demographic of (68%) and the highest ownership of commercial properties (about 50%) by African-Americans.
Getting the input and participation of those directly impacted as well as the other stake holders was inherent to the concept. The following lists outreach activities to the merchants, homeowners, the general community and politicians with canvassing, meetings and research as of 8-30-06:
Developed and shared a project concept with 12 merchants, as well as the Leimert Park Merchants’ Associaition (under Ruth Nucholls) and the Leimert Park CDC (under Beverly Cashen)
Got a letter of support from Councilman Bernard Parks
Got petitions signed by the majority of the merchants
Got petitions signed by 65 homeowners within a 3-block radius
Gave presentations to the Neighborhood Council Board and meeting
Gave presentations to two block clubs
Had 2 meetings with the greater S. Los Angeles community
Gave presentations to the Business Improvement District and, again, at the Leimert Park Merchants’ Association Presentations to Leimert Park Tourism Association and to the new Artists Coalition members
Help set up and inform a homeowners’ advocacy group (in support of traffic, security and cleanliness concerns)
Got a letter of support from Congresswoman Diane E. Watson
Identified potential real estate acquisitions
Identified potential investors
Set up meeting of some merchants to work together to purchase\their building
Acquired some consultants’ help, held many one-on-one meetings,distribute informational flyers and FAQ’s (frequently asked questions)
Have met one-on-one with 8 of the commercial property owners
Africatown is essentially the new American experience of learning about and enjoying African culture from New Orleans to the Caribbean and from places far beyond, in one place.
The concerns and participation of homeowners and residents within a 3-block radius; the concerns and participation of the surrounding businesses, the many community-based organizations; the needs and participation of the Youth — all were intrinsically important in the overall design and acceptance of the project.
A development project has the effect of a pebble thrown into a pond– the ripples are evidence of confluence. Guiding and managing that confluence are key when putting the adjective “community” in front of development. The ripples of an Africatown must be meaningful to all stake holders, bringing jobs, opportunities and pride.
The umbrella entity (composed of a representative cross-section) that will manage the whole project area will have equity interest in all income-producing entities it sets up and/or assists to sustain itself. This income will fund the oversight of maintenance, beautification, administration, operations, etc. Most importantly, it will ensure cultural permanence, visibility, land use decision making, and jobs (not jails) creation capabilities.
As a benefit of the “pebble” confluence, the surrounding community will be ensured of higher property values because of the high standards of beauty, traffic mitigation, cleanliness and overall management. The oversight group knows the beauty and increased value of the surrounding area are key to a tourist’s perception of safety.
Additionally, funds will be set aside monthly for the upkeep and maintenance of the Vision Theatre– a beautiful art deco 1,000-seat theatre. The films and, to a lesser degree, other activities will provide funds to support the theatre and other marginally profitable, yet important, cultural venues. As a matter of fact, averaging 6 films/yr at a historical return of 9:1, the movie studio and the sound stage are the anchor tenants of the development.
New construction (with one site modeled after the parkdowntown below), restoration of the existing art deco sites, awesome cultural experiences: Welcome to Africatown, a new standard in cultural tourism development.
“The Vision is nothing if not ambitious and, perhaps, therein lies its incredible appeal and the key to its inevitable success.”