MAYWOOD — Today's inauguration of the first shopping center in this mile-square, largely Latino town of 25,000 marks more than the start of new businesses, city officials said.
For this city, struggling to emerge from two decades of economic decline and urban blight, the 18-store Maywood Towne Center represents the "first step in starting a face lift," and already has drawn interest from other developers, officials said.
In addition, it holds the promise of hundreds of new jobs and an expected 10% boost in sales tax revenues.
In 1981, Maywood targeted sectors of the downtown area for its redevelopment project and, with about $4 million in federal Community Development Block Grant, Jobs Bill and Urban Development Action Grant funds, bought the block on the corner of Slauson Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard where the center stands, relocated remaining tenants, and demolished a vacant hospital and boarded-up storefronts.
The site, sold last year to a developer for $1.5 million, has attracted Maywood's first big-name chain stores.
A McDonald's, Boys Market, Thrifty Drug and Discount Store, Yum Yum Donut Shop, Payless Shoe Source and Shakey's Pizza Parlor have replaced the blighted block. Two restaurants, a jewelry store, a dentist's office, a beauty salon and several clothing stores also have moved into the center, which cost developers about $7 million to build.
"The people of Maywood have been hungry for a nice little center around here," said Mayor Rose Marie Busciglio, a Maywood resident for 50 years and a Thrifty employee. "We're trying to keep some of our money in town."
The new shopping center is "the first step in starting the face lift in this city," Busciglio said. "I'm so excited about it. Maywood used to be a real nice little town before it started going down, down, down. We've hit bottom and now we're starting to go up."
Area Hit Hard in '60s
White flight and urban decay hit the Southeast area hard in the '60s and '70s, as businesses closed and downtown streets were lined with boarded-up stores and "for sale" signs. Closures of major steel, rubber and auto plants in the area put thousands out of work.
In Maywood's downtown, a three-story hospital, too small to operate at a profit, closed and became an overnight home for vagrants. In the wake of the hospital's demise, several local pharmacies and medical suppliers went out of business.
Desperate for revenues, city officials in neighboring Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Commerce and Huntington Park passed ordinances allowing poker clubs to be built in their cities. Councilmen in those cities complained that they could not interest major stores in coming to the Southeast area.
Didn't Want Poker
Maywood officials, on the other hand, may have joked about a poker club, but never seriously considered the idea, Busciglio said.
"It would have been foolish," she said. "We felt that we needed shops more than gambling parlors." Besides, she noted, several of the area's four clubs now suffer from heavy competition and "are not doing too well."
Today, Maywood has a median household income of $16,700 and is 80% Latino. Two decades of immigration from Latin America have replaced the city's majority middle-class white population.
In its first year of operation, the shopping center is expected to generate 350 new jobs and between $60,000 and $80,000 in sales tax revenues for the city (about a 10% increase in sales tax revenues), said Ron Lindsey, Maywood's building and planning director. Total sales tax revenues for the 1985-86 fiscal year are estimated at $600,000, the city's largest revenue source in a $4.2-million budget.
New Interest in Area
The center has brought new interest in Maywood from developers, Lindsey said.
"I have at least one call a week from developers asking if there's any opportunities in the area," he said. "I think the Towne Center's going to help us an awful lot."
The city has chosen a developer and a preliminary layout for its next project on the northeast corner of Slauson and Atlantic, Lindsey said. A vacant clothing surplus store (since moved to a new location a block away), two beer bars and ten aging apartment units now stand on that site.
The city also has plans to acquire land for a third redevelopment project on the block, directly north of Towne Center between Pine Avenue and Atlantic, Lindsey said.
The inauguration of the center today will feature speeches by city officials and major stores at a 9 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. Grand opening festivities began Wednesday at the center and will continue through Sunday, with raffles, special discounts and giveaways at all stores.
A neat strip of grass and trees surrounds the ample parking lot of the new center, and banners announcing the grand opening flutter over the busy stores.
"I can't believe we've finally made it," Busciglio said Tuesday. "It's just a great thing that's happened to Maywood. We have such big hopes now."