Following the completion of Metro's Regional Connector subway in 2022, one of Little Tokyo's largest development sites could once again be put out to bid.
"Founded in 1885, Little Tokyo is one of the oldest communities in the City of Los Angeles, and has been one of the central hubs for the Japanese American community in the country," reads a motion introduced on June 8 by 14th District Councilmember Kevin de Leon. "Prior to Executive Order 9066 and the internment of Japanese Americans, Little Tokyo was a much larger community. However, the internment and the subsequent sale of Little Tokyo land reduced the boundaries dramatically."
Among the properties that transitioned to public ownership, thereby decreasing Little Tokyo's footprint, is the 4.5-acre "Mangrove site," at the northeast corner of 1st and Alameda Streets. The city-controlled land is currently being used as a construction staging area for the neighboring subway station, which will be accessed from a plaza which will be built on a Metro-owned site at the southwest corner of the same intersection.
"Completion of the Regional Connector and release of the Mangrove and First and Central sites [from] construction uses will present an invaluable development opportunity for the Little Tokyo community," writes de Leon, who proposes that the City of Los Angeles and Metro should coordinate plans and issue a joint request for proposals for the development of both parcels.
Both the Mangrove site and the neighboring Metro First and Central property have been incorporated in the community-driven Sustainable Little Tokyo Plan, a vision for future development which was developed with input from business owners, residents, and other stakeholders through the Little Tokyo Community Council (LTCC). Under the original 2013 plan, which is now in the midst of an update, the two sites could be developed with new low-rise and high-rise buildings featuring a mix of multifamily housing, neighborhood-serving commercial space, and other uses.
A joint plan for the Mangrove and First and Central properties simultaneously would come in the wake of failed attempts to redevelop both sites independently of one another.
In 2008, the City fielded multiple proposals that would have brought housing, offices, shops, restaurants, and open space to the Mangrove site. The competition yielded a winning concept from Urban Partners and Little Tokyo Service Center that ultimately went unbuilt as a result of changing market conditions during the global recession that followed.
More recently, Metro backed away from a tentative agreement with an Orange County-based affordable housing developer to construct apartments at the First and Central. Although the selected project was the highest scoring proposal under the metrics set out in the request for proposals, the winning concept faced backlash due to a lack of community participation in the development team.
While the future of the Mangrove and First and Central properties remain up in the air, plans for another publicly-owned site in Little Tokyo are beginning to take shape. At the intersection of Judge John Aiso and Temple Streets, Little Tokyo Service Center and Go For Broke have teamed up to build a 228-unit affordable housing complex which would include ground-floor commercial space and an education center focused on Japanese American World War II veterans.
- Downtown (Urbanize LA)