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Preference for Blacks Sought in Crenshaw Mall Project

November 02, 1987|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

With thousands of jobs and millions of dollars at stake, Crenshaw community leaders are demanding that blacks be given preference in the construction and operation of the new Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza, a $120-million shopping mall in the predominantly black area.

The joint venture by Los Angeles and the Alexander Haagen Co. is aimed at transforming the aging Crenshaw regional shopping center into a modern, fully enclosed mall capable of competing with popular shopping centers on the Westside and elsewhere.

Crenshaw community leaders, however, are not just pushing for another place to shop. They want the mall to be a source of jobs, leases and investments for blacks.

Mayor Tom Bradley, whose office has nurtured the project for more than six years, and the developer said they have the same ambition for the mall and that they are involved in a massive recruiting effort to attract more blacks. But critics contend that they are running out of time to keep their promises, especially with completion of the project only a year away.

"The problem is we just haven't seen it," said Anthony M. Essex, vice president of the Los Angeles branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. "And the bottom line is that more of the major players at this mall are going to have to be black folks. If not, then they will have a $120-million white elephant on their hands because we will boycott it until every tenant pulls out."

Essex and others said that the problem started in June when it was discovered that few of the demolition workers on the site were black. The Los Angeles Urban League, which has its headquarters in the Crenshaw community, conducted a count and found 26 whites, 20 Latinos and only 4 blacks.

"When we saw the first work force representing every racial and ethnic group except ours, that is when we hit the ceiling and raised hell," said John Mack, Urban League president.

Mack was also annoyed because none of the 300 candidates that his organization recommended to the contractor, Bayley Construction, were given jobs. He said he was told that they were placed at the end of the hiring list behind union members.

"The Urban League and our Crenshaw constituents will not stand idly by and allow unemployed blacks to be discriminated against by Bayley Construction, the union or any other party," he wrote in a July 9 letter to the contractor.

In addition to the concern over construction jobs, black store owners, who were interested in opening businesses in the mall, have complained that it has been difficult to obtain information from the developer. "Many still don't know what it takes to get into the mall," Essex said. Also, the project has been the subject of rumors that the Haagen firm is courting Asians as tenants instead of blacks.

These problems and more began to surface last month when it was also disclosed that the tentative agreement by the Haagen Co. to sell up to half of its share in the project to a wealthy black family for $15 million had collapsed. Haagen is negotiating with another group of black investors.

Growing Complaints

In response to a growing number of complaints, the city, the developer and the Urban League, which has a contract with the city to provide public information on the project, have been holding weekly meetings to find ways to increase the number of blacks involved in the project. They also convened meetings with neighborhood residents to discuss job and business opportunities at the mall.

"We are listening (to the complaints); we are not only listening, we are performing," said Andrew J. Natker, who heads the project for the Haagen Co. "We have literally been calling (minority) subcontractors to get them to submit bids, everyone is pitching in to make this a showcase. There is still lots of time; we haven't built anything yet. We are still pushing dirt around out there."

Natker said that critics have been too quick to judge the project. For example, he said, the project is exceeding its goal of having 25% of the construction work go to firms owned by women and members of minority groups.

Minority Participation

Of the $9.6 million in construction contracts awarded to date, minority- and women-owned firms have received amounts totaling $3.8 million or roughly 42%, according to figures released this month by the Community Redevelopment Agency. Included in the minority contract figures are six black-owned companies that have been awarded nine construction contracts totaling $1.2 million.

Natker said the Haagen Co. is negotiating leases with 26 minority-owned stores, including 22 black-owned stores.

"We are probably negotiating more with black tenants than we are with the national chain stores, and I feel very strongly that soon the majority of the workers on the project will be black," he said.

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