A group of black community leaders spoke out Wednesday against the pending sale of the iconic Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza shopping center, arguing the developer purchasing the property represents a threat to South L.A. and its economic interests.

They said the CIM Group Inc. has no meaningful ties to South L.A. and has become a major force for gentrification in recent years.

The company is in escrow to buy the site. Community leaders said the company plans to build a high-rise office complex on the property. CIM owns billions of dollars of real estate throughout the United States, including the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, and has received tens of millions of dollars in government loans and tax subsidies for its massive real estate deals.

“What CIM proposes is a hostile takeover of the most iconic African-American retail space west of the Mississippi River and the construction of a project that would ignore the community’s needs and wishes and possibly wipe out dozens of minority-owned businesses that are now tenants in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall,” said Pastor William D. Smart Jr., CEO and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California.

CIM’s development plan would scrap the previously announced redevelopment that was planned by the current owner, Capri Capital Advisors LLC, one of the nation’s largest minority-owned real estate companies. Capri’s plan, endorsed by local elected officials and community leaders, called for building 1,000 badly needed mixed-income housing units and a 400-room hotel on underdeveloped portions of the plaza property.

When CIM announced its purchase plans in April, co-founder Shaul Kuba said the mall “occupies a pivotal location in a well-established Los Angeles community, centrally located and adjacent to a soon-to-open Metro light rail station. Two large anchors, Sears and Walmart, closed their doors prior to COVID-19’s shuttering the entire mall, and 300,000 square feet of space in these two large buildings continue to remain vacant.

“We have the opportunity to bring a fresh perspective to the future of the property viewed through the lens of the current climate and the acceleration of the already declining retail environment,” Kuba said. “Since 1947 this property has been a commercial property, and although current entitlements allow residential components, we believe that residential uses are not suitable for this property and it should remain a commercial property in our repositioning.”

In recent years, CIM has become a major landlord and property developer in the West Adams corridor. The plaza property would be the “crown jewel” in CIM’s gentrification efforts in South L.A., said Pastor K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California.

“Our community is not opposed to outside capital, energy and creativity investing in South L.A.,” said Tolluss. “What we oppose is having our neighborhoods overwhelmed by the insensitive, speculative forces of gentrification that CIM represents.”

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