When Phil Allenbaugh moves into his luxury apartment next Sunday on the southern edge of downtown Los Angeles, he'll be just the type of upscale resident that developers and many city leaders have been hoping to attract to the area for years.
A 24-year-old salesman of business forms, Allenbaugh will wake up in the morning and take a short walk to call on his clients in the nearby office towers.
At night, he'll be able to pop into one of the growing number of trendy nightspots in the area before walking back home to The Metropolitan--a 14-story high-rise that, come Tuesday, will be the first upscale rental complex to open in downtown's fledgling South Park area.
"I'm going to have an extra 3 1/2 hours a day for myself because I won't have to commute from Santa Ana any more," Allenbaugh said. "I'm going to park my car in the garage on Sunday night, and not even see it again until the following weekend.
"I'm going to love living in downtown Los Angeles."
Clearly, this week's opening of The Metropolitan will mark a milestone in the efforts of Mayor Tom Bradley, the City Council and the Community Redevelopment Agency to turn South Park into a bustling neighborhood of both homes and commerce.
CRA Subsidized Developer
But it will also be a milestone of another sort: A tribute to the frustration of some activists for low- and moderate-income families, who say city leaders are spending too much time and too much money trying to woo young professionals to one of the last bastions of affordable housing in the downtown area.
As with several other new or proposed residential and commercial projects in South Park, the CRA has provided millions of dollars in subsidies to the developer of The Metropolitan. About $10 million of the money that Forest City Properties Corp. needed to build the $45-million Metropolitan came from the CRA.
"It's just unbelievable that the city is subsidizing developers with millions of dollars to lure yuppies downtown," complained Michael Bodaken, a senior attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. "This city is the homeless capital of the nation. The money ought to be earmarked for homeless shelters and low-income housing."
Added David Lara, a community activist at Jobs with Peace: "The big question is whether the CRA should be helping to build good apartments for the (lower-income) people who already live in the area, or whether they should be building upscale housing to attract new residents from other parts of town. The Metropolitan won't do anything for the people who already live in South Park, because they can't afford the rents."
South Park is roughly bounded by 8th Street on the north, Broadway on the east, Santa Monica Freeway on the south and Harbor Freeway on the west. The revitalization project has been a source of controversy between city leaders and activists such as Bodaken and Lara almost since planning for the area began in 1970.
Spur Private Development
Bradley, city planners and developers hope redevelopment of South Park will eventually generate thousands of jobs, millions in tax revenue, and an abundance of sorely needed park space and downtown housing. To do that, they have committed more than $500 million in taxpayer money to redevelop the area and spur more private-sector involvement.
But many activists worry that South Park will become merely a Manhattan-like playground where young urban professionals and $1,500-a-month rents will force out all but the handful of poor people lucky enough to land one of the few subsidized condominiums or apartments slated for the area.
So far, the only other new housing that has been created in South Park is The Skyline, an upscale condominium complex that opened about five years ago. It, too, was built by Forest City with financial help from the CRA.
"Projects like the Metropolitan are going to gentrify South Park, and the CRA is encouraging it," said Bodaken at Legal Aid. "We should be spending the money to build affordable housing, not subsidizing apartments for yuppies."
But city officials and developers say skyrocketing land prices in South Park virtually mandate public subsidies to build housing downtown, and that attracting upscale renters will lure more businesses and builders to the area.
Creation of Jobs
"I think the money we got (from the CRA) was money well spent," said Steven P. Albert, president of Forest City Properties. "The city and the CRA want to create the type of urban environment downtown that you find in New York, London and Paris. You do that by building good housing for the people who work there and by creating more jobs in the area.
"Sure, the city could have spent the money on building all low-income housing in South Park. But if they did that, you wouldn't attract more commerce to the area and you wouldn't attract upscale housing. If you want to create a real community downtown, you have to start with this kind of housing first."