A Los Angeles Mall Gets Snarled in Charged Debate Over Local Ownership

The once-grand Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall in Los Angeles seemed like a prime target for investors. That was before it got caught up in a combustible debate over local ownership, race and economic development.

The surrounding neighborhoods offered a potential redevelopment gold mine, including one of the nation’s largest concentrations of affluent and middle-class Black households. In late April, private-equity company CIM Group agreed to pay around $130 million for the property, which fronts on West Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

A month later, the killing of George Floyd sparked demonstrations across the U.S. and energized opponents of the sale. Local activists claimed the deal would displace the mall’s Black-owned stores and lead to higher rents in lower-income neighborhoods nearby. Within weeks, the $29 billion private-equity company backed out of the deal, a swift and surprising victory for opponents.

That was only the start of the story. Homeowners, renters and business owners—including a pair of dueling local groups who hoped to buy the mall—are now divided over what should come next.

In the economic recovery, the demographics near the mall began turning more affluent and more white, said Paul Ong, CNK Director. “I think the big fear was around Crenshaw Plaza accelerating that,” he said.

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