Six years after the City of Los Angeles zeroed in on a proposal to redevelop the long-shuttered Lincoln Heights Jail, we are going back to the drawing board.

In 2017, a public request for proposals for the property at 401 N. Avenue 19 yielded a winning submission Lincoln Property Company and Fifteen Group, which would have combined the jail site with an adjoining property controlled by the development team. At the time, the two firms had sought to build more than 268,000 square feet of residential units, including affordable housing, accompanied by 220,000 square feet of commercial space, 57,000 square feet of manufacturing and retail space, and roughly four acres of open space.

Aerial view of the now-cancelled plan for the Lincoln Heights JailKilograph

However, according to a motion introduced on May 10 by 1st District Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, Lincoln Property Company and Fifteen Group backed out of the project in late 2022, sending the city back to square one.

There are some advantages, relative to where the process began nearly one decade ago, according to Hernandez. Notably, the environmental assessments and remediation work done over the past five years puts the site in better condition for redevelopment.

"[T]he City is in a unique position to start this process over with a more robust community engagement and an eye towards healing the environmental and social harm this building has brought the Lincoln Heights community," reads the motion introduced by Hernandez. "The site is nearly 147,000 square feet, creating a critical opportunity to create housing and a mixed-use development that serves the Lincoln Heights community and surrounding neighbors."

Aerial view of the Lincoln Heights JailGoogle Maps

The motion, which has been referred to the Council's Economic & Community Development Committee for consideration, directs city departments to report back within 120 days on what steps should be taken for further site remediation and redevelopment. Staff are also expected to report within 150 days on a community engagement plan, and explore opportunities for grant funding for redevelopment or demolition of the jail property.

The 1930s art deco building, which stands along the east bank of the Los Angeles River, was built to hold 625 inmates, but saw its population swell to nearly 2,800 by the early 1950s. The jail was shuttered in 1965, although it housed other city operations as recently as 2014, and the property still features an LADOT yard which is expected to close this summer.

According to the motion, the jail has also been the site of a brutal beating of seven inmates by 50 guards, and often housed inmates targeted due to being members of the LGBTQ community.

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