For the first time since the Hawthorne Plaza mall was completely shuttered in the late 1990s, building plans have been submitted to City Hall calling for new construction to begin there early next year.
The significant step comes after a decade of standstill between city leaders and the mall’s owner over the decrepit site that once housed J.C. Penney, The Broadway, and Montgomery Ward department stores as well as a range of other retailers.
The plans envision a mega mixed-use development with more than 1 million square feet of commercial space that includes a movie theater, gym, restaurants, bowling alley and other entertainment options among large and small retailers. Offices and 600 housing units will be woven into the less trafficked portions of the project.
“As a council we’ve done, in a year, what hasn’t been done in the last 20 years. That’s the bottom-line truth,” Mayor Alex Vargas said. “Because we cut out the B.S. We cut out the petty politics and are just doing the people’s business.”
Three previous rough development plans floated by West Hollywood-based developer Charles Co. were turned down by City Council members who said they didn’t like the designs.
On Nov. 22, the City Council approved, on a 4-0 vote, a deal to provide financial support for the development by diverting some property tax revenue to the project in the future.
The Hawthorne Boulevard-facing mall stretches from 120th Street south past 126th Street. It’s apocalyptic look, with broken down elevators and hollowed-out stores covered in graffiti, has been used as a backdrop for many films and TV shows over the years.
The site’s massive $500 million transformation will begin by relocating Los Angeles County workers housed in temporary offices in the mall since 2001 to an adjacent office building that will be built at 126th Street within a year.
Once the new $25 million office building is finished and workers are moved, the mall will be demolished, City Manager Arnie Shadbehr said. An underground parking garage will be constructed, and the existing three-story parking garage will be retrofitted to allow for two levels of offices above.
“I can see some hope now,” said Shadbehr, who has worked feverishly to hasten the mall’s development this year. “We can break ground as soon as February.”
Shadbehr was appointed interim city manager last year after city officials revealed that former City Manager Michael Goodson lied about a growing budget deficit. With the support of former Mayor Chris Brown, Goodson and other top city leaders secretly spent tens of thousands of dollars on incidentals like meals and travel expenses.
Since taking over City Hall, Shadbehr has focused on closing a roughly $6 million structural budget deficit. He worked closely with City Attorney Russell Miyahira to renegotiate the city’s debt payments to save $2 million in annual fees.
“The renegotiation of our loan obligations, the hotel project across the street and the Hawthorne mall project are going to close the budget gap and, eventually, in a few years we’ll have a surplus,” Vargas said. “That’s our three-point economic recovery plan.”
Councilwoman Olivia Valentine praised Shadbehr for pursuing economic solvency so doggedly.
“If it weren’t for him, we would never have had the mall at this stage now,” Valentine said. “Arnie and his staff have pushed this thing and pushed it so that we really do owe him a debt of gratitude.”