In downtown Inglewood, vacant storefronts leave gaping holes in a commercial district that has hit the skids. What few stores have survived offer a mix of discount clothing, cheap household goods and used records.
But Inglewood, like several other Los Angeles County communities, is hoping that a multiscreen movie complex will be just the attraction to turn around its long-blighted downtown, which, in the 1950s and early 1960s, was the commercial hub of the South Bay.
Recently, the city signed a tentative agreement with K & L International Partners, a South Korean development company, to build a $24-million complex that will house a 12-screen movie theater, retail establishments and a fast-food court in a one-square-block section that is part of the city's downtown redevelopment zone. The City Council is set to vote on the agreement--which would include a city commitment of $8.5 million--on Tuesday.
If approved, Inglewood's 113,000 residents could go to a movie in their own city for the first time in more than a decade. Now they must drive to locations such as Manhattan Beach, Torrance, Hawthorne or Baldwin Hills to see a film. At one time there were three movie theaters in town.
"It is something that the residents of the community have been asking for for a long period of time," Mayor Pro Tem Garland Hardeman said.
Following the path taken by other teetering downtowns, Inglewood is hoping that a movie complex is just the ticket to boost daytime and nighttime foot traffic in a commercial area that began to sag after the Del Amo Center in Torrance opened in 1959. In 1975 the Fox Hills Mall opened in nearby Culver City.
Other cities that have used movie theaters to entice customers to declining commercial zones include Santa Monica and Long Beach, which in 1992 added a 16-screen movie theater on Pine Avenue that has become the linchpin in turning around a long-shunned, once-seedy downtown.
In Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, basketball star Magic Johnson and Sony opened a 12-screen movie complex in 1995 that is now one of the top-grossing movie theaters in the country.
Inglewood Community Development Director Tony DeBellis said the city realizes it has an ailing downtown, and officials are hoping this is the medicine that can make it better. "We're actually excited that someone is willing to come into the community to invest," DeBellis said.
The complex would be built on a now-cleared 2.8-acre chunk of land bounded by La Brea and Florence avenues and Regent and Market streets. The parcel is to the north of the Market Street shopping district that is filled largely with beauty and nail salons, small restaurants and empty storefronts.
The city is trying to get an anchor retailer to the north and south of the business district in the hope that the deteriorating four blocks in between will gradually turn around.
City officials began looking for a developer more than two years ago, when a four-member advisory committee was established in September 1994 to interview prospective developers. Four developers submitted proposals. K & L International Partners was selected because it had done several large development projects in Southeast Asia. The agreement was signed in November.
The complex, a white stucco structure with red tile roofs, would have 84,000 square feet of retail shops and a fast-food court. The 46,000-square-foot movie complex would have 3,000 seats. The complex would generate between 650 to 1,300 full- and part-time jobs.
Under the agreement, land purchased by the city Redevelopment Agency for $4.5 million would be turned over to K & L for $1. In addition, the city would invest $4 million in the project.
The city's investment has left some residents, including City Councilwoman Judy Dunlap, dubious about the project. She objects to using city funds for a private development instead of helping out local retailers who have been loyal to the downtown area.
She also objects to the location. She cites a study that showed a cinema would be better located in the 100 block of Market Street or at Manchester and Market streets to create more foot traffic.
DeBellis and Redevelopment Director Jesse Lewis noted that city funds are often used to help kick-start redevelopment projects. The vacant land north of Market Street, which used to house a Cadillac dealership and a furniture store, is available now, they said.
When fully developed in the next two to three years, the complex would bring in at least $240,000 a year in property taxes, officials said. It was not known how much sales tax it would generate, they said.
The complex is good news for retailers who have been struggling to improve the downtown area. Thelma Cook, owner of the Golden Oldies Record store, was hoping a new complex would boost her lackluster sales. "It couldn't hurt," she said as she rearranged some knickknacks inside the store, which was devoid of customers.
At Lynton's Uniforms, which has been on Market Street since 1959, owners Shellie and Saul Zuckerman were hoping a new development would bring back the store's once-thriving business. Their only concern was that the entrances and exits to the shopping complex would not open onto Market Street and that the buildings off Market Street might face inward. "It is definitely needed," said Saul Zuckerman. "Whether it is going to help or not is still to be determined."