More than 200 people braved the heat wave over the weekend and ventured to the corner of Vermont and Manchester for an afternoon of family-friendly fun and refreshments, as well as a chance to share their vision for a multimillion-dollar development at the site, which had been vacant for more than a quarter century.
Sponsored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the neighborhood event was facilitated in partnership with the Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and the Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (LURN). Having worked together to take control of the long-vacant property, the Supervisor, Councilman and Metro joined forces to meet residents, hear their ideas for the upcoming development, and celebrate what has been lightning-fast progress for the long-empty corner.
At the end of April, the courts granted the County control of the site. Soon after, the Supervisor had the burned-out building, left there since 1992, demolished. Weed abatement and removal came next, and Saturday’s community event was only the first of several planned in coming months to engage the neighborhood on immediate opportunities to activate the site, and their feedback on the ultimate design and amenities for the development.
“This project is about economic development — the kind of sustainable, ongoing investment this community has long deserved,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We want to make sure that residents and other stakeholders have a chance to be a part of history in the making. We want to collectively design and construct a project that uplifts this community.”
“The fact that more than 200 people braved 100-degree heat to tell us their aspirations for the Vermont and Manchester site shows the depth of the community’s commitment to this project,” KDI Project Manager Naria Kiani said. “Going forward, we will host a series of engagement activities and events to provide additional opportunities for residents to be heard.”
Slated for the 4.2-acre site are: 180 affordable apartments, California’s first urban public boarding school, a transit careers training center, open space and 50,000 square foot of retail space. The housing will significantly bolster the area’s supply of available units, and the school already is poised to become a one-of-a-kind pipeline for graduates seeking lucrative careers in the transportation field. Many other elements, however, remain to be decided.
Throughout the four-hour event, everyone was invited to stop by a stand with colored blocks — green for restaurants, yellow for grocery stories, red for job training — to provide feedback on their priority for retail shops in the development. Most people chose a small grocery store and a job training center.
Visitors were also asked to weigh on the proposed name and design of the development, as well as provide general feedback regarding what features were priorities for them to have as part of the project.
Despite the brilliant summer sun, there was a festive mood under the shaded canopies that protected people from the sun’s glare. People cooled off with copious amounts of ice water and cups of free ice cream, and enjoyed hot dogs and french fries provided by Earle’s (formerly Earlez Grille).
“In the last month, I’ve seen more action on this site than I have since I was a child,” said Moises Rosales, president of the Southeast Neighborhood Association. “It’s progress for the community and powerful for our children to see this. I’m hoping it’s going to be a catalyst for all of Vermont,” he added, waving a hand toward the avenue.
Richard Benbow, retired chief operating officer of the Los Angeles City Community Redevelopment Agency, said, “We are celebrating this tremendous project – it’s very much needed and represents an amazing step in the recovery of this community. This has been a long time coming.”
Time and again, community members returned to the themes of economic recovery, job training and community rebirth.
“What I see here is hope. It will be a godsend,” said Pastor Anthony Williams, of the 88th Street Temple Church of God in Christ located a few blocks south of the site. In particular, the presence of a school oriented toward transportation careers will, he believes, catalyze job training and economic investment for the community.
Harris-Dawson, former executive director of the nearby Community Coalition, spoke to both the past and the future, noting the new project ends more than two decades of “nullification, excuses and disappointments” — something that gives everyone reason to celebrate.