On Friday, August 20th, time ran out on activists and community groups seeking to stop the sale of the Crenshaw Mall with word of its sale to the Beverly Hills-based, Harridge Development Group.
The news was met with anger and outrage by those seeking to have black ownership of what has long been considered as a cultural landmark, and who over the last year and a half have worked to thwart the deals of two previous developers who sought to acquire the 40-acre mall that includes retail and specialty shops, a cinema complex, museum, dining and an Albertson’s supermarket.
“We, the community, believe in our own self determinism,” said Pastor William Smart, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Los Angeles. “We want to determine who builds in our community. Late last Friday, the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall was quietly purchased by developer David Schwartzman, President and CEO of Harridge Development Group in a deal that included just five percent black ownership. How can that happen in our community in 2021?”
For Downtown Crenshaw co-founder Damien Goodmon, that answer is simple.
“The only reason corrupt and racist Schwartzman was able to buy our Black mall is because he was provided special treatment that Downtown Crenshaw was never afforded,” Goodmon said in a statement.
“Downtown Crenshaw did everything that was asked of us despite repeated gamesmanship by the public pension funds and Deutsche Bank/DWS. We outbid Harridge and submitted a fully-financed offer of $115 million with more favorable terms. We secured the backing of mission-aligned financial partners, who want to see our community uplifted not uprooted. We engaged in a historic fundraising campaign where we raised $28 million in philanthropy in just two weeks.
Schwartzman, who was reached by phone, referred all inquiries to the Lee Andrews Group, who had been retained to handle media inquiries. However, no calls were returned by our press deadline.
City officials seem to be taking a hands off wait-and-see approach as the dust has hardly settled on plans for the property that straddles both the eighth and tenth districts, coupled by the fact that there are many approvals that have to take place before the actual development gets underway.
Tenants like Ayuko Babu, co-organizer of the Pan African Film Festival, remain in the dark about the sale.
“I don’t really know what’s happening,” said Babu. “I believe that the mall should be in the hands of the community, but now that it’s been secretly sold, that may be an uphill battle.”
The battle, activists contend, is far from over.
“Purchasing the property is one thing, receiving community support to move forward is another matter and we are prepared to oppose the project moving forward,” Smart said.
“Ultimately, the sale of the Crenshaw Mall is far from final,” Goodmon stated. “It is going to be litigated in the courts and reviewed by oversight bodies. In addition to Downtown Crenshaw evaluating our many legal options, we are aware of at least four lawsuits that are currently being discussed by public pension fund members, civil rights organizations, and another qualified Black bidder that was passed over.
“With over 2,300 members and the support of over 300 community groups we have built a movement that will continue to fight for community control of our Crenshaw Mall.”