Rouzan quit his post in February after a year of seeing many of his hopes for mall improvement dashed: an information counter, the return of a courtyard piano player, "things that seem small but are invaluable. . . . Their absence sends a definite message to the community."
Although efforts to organize and educate merchants about business practices proved successful, Rouzan said he and his small staff were continually overworked and accorded little respect by some members of Haagen Properties management.
He also cited the mall's refusal to participate in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in January as yet another example of community insensitivity and disregard. Mall officials later said they regretted not participating.
Haagen's son, Alexander Haagen III, marketing head and manager of Haagen Properties, said that he and Rouzan simply clashed on management styles; though they both wanted to improve the plaza, he said, they envisioned vastly different ways of going about it.
The Haagen company, he said, is "trying to find the right niches. This isn't just the African American market, it's Latino and Asian as well."
The mall, he added, is focusing on more efficient ways to advertise through cable and other media, "because if you don't do that, no one will come. The question now is, 'How do we get the word out?' "
A longtime Crenshaw area resident, even Rouzan calls the upcoming movie multiplex the best thing to happen to the area in many years. "But I think it's got one shot," he added. "The mall has to make sure it promotes itself and the theaters as best it can. Security is an issue. If people don't feel safe, they won't come."
Security has always been an uneasy question at the mall. There have been few incidents--mall manager Derrell Spann reported no car thefts last year--but many residents nonetheless have expressed wariness about security at the theater. It is expected to draw many more--and younger--patrons. Spann said the perception of crime in the area is often more problematic than actual.
Yet even if security is assured, said Spann, "it's like a Catch 22. People want to be safe, but don't want to feel like they're in a police state, either."
Johnson, however, says he did his community homework thoroughly. He said he sat down with neighborhood gangs and wound up hiring 10 of them to work on the construction site. At least five, he said, will be permanently hired once the complex opens.
"Of course, we'll have excellent security. If you don't have a safe environment, people won't come," he said. "But these guys are taking pride in this, helping to build it. That'll go a long way toward security. Everyone will be welcome here; it's a family place. Ideally, we'll all just police ourselves."
Longtime Crenshaw resident and community activist Valerie Lynne Shaw admits that while she has her doubts about the success of the theaters, she is certain the mall itself will do just fine, despite the one-two punch the mall has suffered--"racism and the recession."
"But we've had one of the country's strongest developers on this project," she said of Haagen. "Without him at the helm, that place would just be a hole in the ground."
ON THE COVER
A construction crew member works on a bridge that will link a new theater complex and parking lot with the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.
Both mall officials and area residents are hoping that the added foot traffic will boost business at the plaza, which would attract more top-drawer stores to the center and promote a healthier business environment for the Crenshaw corridor.