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EXCLUSIVE: Coalition Raising $100M To Buy CIM-Abandoned Project

A Los Angeles group says it is now raising funds to revitalize one of black LA's economic engines, after a development group backed out of a plan to buy the project.

Damien Goodmon, the executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, told Bisnow that his group and a coalition of community centered developers are looking to raise more than $100M to buy the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall "to redevelop it for the community, and by the community."

Goodmon spoke to Bisnow a day after Culver City-based CIM Group backed out of its acquisition of the 869K SF site, an about-face that was driven at least in part by CSC's and Downtown Crenshaw, a coalition of more than 150 community organizations, civic leaders, faith representatives and former elected officials that engaged in an advocacy campaign.

Rendering of Capri Capital's Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza redevelopment
Rendering of Capri Capital's Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza redevelopment

"Our message is, and we're telling this to everybody, if you don't come in with a plan to build something for our community, to improve the conditions of our community, then get out," Goodmon said to Bisnow. "If you are coming in with a plan to kick us out, you leave, because we're staying. You're not welcome here and we will assemble the team to build our projects."

"We have to change this," Goodmon added. "This is the paradigm shift to change the system ... Any development that comes into this community is for this community."

Last month, CIM announced it would buy most of the mall on a 43-acre site at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Crenshaw Boulevard from Capri Capital Advisors for a reported $100M. A Macy's and IHOP at the mall were not part of the deal.

Before the sale, Capri Capital, a Chicago-based black-owned global real estate manager, had previously received approvals from the city of Los Angeles to revitalize the mall into a 3M SF mixed-use development that included offices, retail, a hotel and more than 950 residential units. But in later plans, CIM said it would scrap the residential component of the original vision and focus its efforts on revamping the office and retail portion.

Goodmon said his organization reached out to CIM officials to discuss their plans for the mall and how its new plans could benefit the community, but CIM refused to meet. CIM had not replied to a Bisnow request for comment as of press time.

The Downtown Crenshaw coalition's announcement that it will try to acquire the site itself follows weeks of worldwide protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis last month, and several years of increased scrutiny of investment in, and the perceived exploitation of, low-income, primarily minority communities.

"This is both about the murder of George Floyd and the years of systemic racial oppression against blacks and the way this is interconnected and has continued into the 21st century," Goodmon said. 

The lack of commercial development and investment in black communities is part of the Black Lives Matter movement and is tied to years of what Goodmon called systemic racial oppression. Some top organizers of the Black Lives Matters movement are part of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition.

"We need real change ... and one of them is to make sure our residents feel secure in our communities and homes," he said. "This ties directly to real estate developments and we are making efforts to support community-centered developments."

The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall in South Los Angeles
The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall in South Los Angeles

At least two petitions to save the mall began circulating a month ago and protests were planned for this week. Opponents also highlighted rumored CIM ties to President Donald Trump and his son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner. 

In a statement, CIM said it had hoped to work with the community and denied ties to the president. 

"It is unfortunate that a petition by opponents to our acquisition of the property relied on false statements rather than comparing and contrasting a prior development proposal and CIM’s current vision for the property," a CIM spokeswoman said in a statement.  "Moreover, CIM Group does not have business with, nor is it 'backed' by Trump or Kushner, a falsehood that was prominent in the petition drive."

CIM officials said they would not be moving forward with the project because the "false narrative" has created a misperception of the company.

"We have concluded that the community, the mall and CIM are best served by the company stepping aside," the statement read. "Despite our disappointment that falsehoods about CIM were used to rally support, we wish the community great success at the mall.” 

Goodmon said he was surprised that CIM pulled out of its planned purchase of the mall so quickly.

"It was going to be an intense week for them," he said. "I think they know what most people know, that now is not the time to be messing with the black community." 

Goodmon pushed back on the company's claim that it does not have ties to Trump and Kushner, pointing a reporter to a 2017 WNYC report that found that CIM "has done at least seven real estate deals that have benefited Trump and the people around him, including Kushner."

"All we told the community was to look it up," Goodmon said. 

Goodmon said moving forward, he is focused on assembling a team and raising money to buy the mall and redevelop it with a community-centered approach.

Capri Capital CEO Quintin Primo III had not replied to a Bisnow email as of press time. 

The group has already identified some financial partners but it will take a while. Goodmon also said that since the mall sits in a designated opportunity zone, his group may take advantage of the tax program to lure more investors. 

"That is among the financial strategies we might take," he said. "We might be the second project in all of America to intentionally use those [OZ] funds in a productive manner. Habitat for Humanity is the first. We're going to explore that. We can't divulge that information yet."

Eventually, the goal, he said, is to revitalize the site for a project that will be created with community needs ahead of profit.

"[We want] a mall that is owned and operated by us, has affordable housing that's for us, offices that [are] for us and retail that is for us," he said. "This is a unifying project for the health and wealth of the community."

CORRECTION, June 17, 9 A.M. PT: A previous version of the story did not include Downtown Crenshaw's involvement. The story has been updated.