New Retailers Make Up for Lost Business

On game nights, the Forum used to ripple with activity. These days, fans outside the arena line up to see "The Little Mermaid on Ice" or the Harlem Globetrotters, not Wayne Gretzky or Shaquille O'Neal.

Even the venue's name is an echo of times gone by; the Great Western Forum is named after a company that no longer exists.

While downtown Los Angeles is becoming the epicenter for sports, Inglewood, known for decades as the City of Champions, has been left behind in the locker room.

Gone are the Lakers and the Kings. So is the dream to build a glistening new football stadium; where Marvin Davis once envisioned a state-of-the-art facility on 97 acres near the Forum, a new housing development is being planned.

Based on all that, you'd suspect Inglewood's future is looking a little grim. But real estate executives say that's not necessarily the case.

"Inglewood right now would love to have the Forum with the Lakers. But, you know, areas go through changes, and I think the changes in Inglewood will be good," said Izzy Eichenstein, president of Oakstone Co., a commercial real estate brokerage near Los Angeles International Airport.

Quick exit

As popular as the Lakers were, the games didn't generate all that much business for the city. As quickly as fans poured into Inglewood on game days, they poured out just as fast.

Many were afraid to stop for long in an area that in the 1980s had a reputation as a high crime zone. The reputation stuck, even though crime has declined a good deal. In 1999 there were 17 murders, down from 46 in 1994, said Inglewood police Lt. Eve Irvine.

With the departure of the Lakers and Kings, city officials say they have lost about $1 million a year in sales tax revenues. But new business is being lured to recapture that money.

"Inglewood has a great future," said Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn, a former Juvenile Court judge first elected in 1997. "We are doing exactly what I intended to do when I took office bring in more business and make the city more business-friendly."

Market Street, which once was the heart of Inglewood's bustling downtown area, for decades has been a conglomeration of shuttered storefronts, discount stores and hair salons that never attracted many outsiders.

Though the street has a kind of scraggly look, it does have potential.

Starting next month, the city will begin a $4 million renovation project paid for with local and federal funds, to put in new lighting fixtures, upgrade the sidewalks and streets, and put in more trees. "Hopefully the street improvement will spur on more people to come here," said Ron Lewis, executive director of Main Street, Inglewood, a private, nonprofit program helping to renew Market Street.

Hollywood Park Inc. is negotiating to sell nearly 100 acres of land to K. Hovnanian Cos. of California. K Hovnanian, which builds affordable housing, is considering up to 1,000 townhomes and single-family houses, which would be prime real estate if you like horse races and gambling. This was the land Marvin Davis was eyeing for a football stadium.

'Things are finally going up'

A new shopping center with a Home Depot and Target will be opening on Century Boulevard late this year or early next year on 43 acres next to Hollywood Park. The Marketplace at Hollywood Park is expected to employ about 900 full-time employees and bring in $1 million in tax revenues, city officials said.

For many communities, a new Target and Home Depot might not be great shakes. But the 120,000 residents of Inglewood, who are mostly Latino and African American, often have to travel outside their town to do any significant shopping. In the past, major retailers have been either reluctant to invest or found it difficult to put a good deal together.

"There isn't any dominant retail in Inglewood," said John Potter, a partner with Hughes Investments in Newport Beach, which is developing the Marketplace at Hollywood Park in conjunction with Home Depot. "We selected this area because of that. And there are a substantial amount of people here with a fairly decent income."

Curtis Fralin, a commercial real estate broker at CB Richard Ellis, tried five years ago to put together a similar deal on a different location near Hollywood Park. But development plans got shoved aside when people became excited about plans to build a football stadium there.

"Football was more important at the time," Fralin recalled. "Now, I think things are finally going up in Inglewood. But it has taken a long time."

A booming economy has clearly helped the City of Champions. So has its convenient location just three miles east of LAX.

"I think Inglewood is one of the best-kept secrets," said Eichenstein of Oakstone. He noted that commercial space rents for 80 to 85 cents a square foot per month in Inglewood, compared to around $2.50 on the Westside. "I have been here 20 years and companies that never would have dreamed of coming down here are coming down here now."

For example, Stiletto Entertainment, which manages singer Barry Manilow and other recording artists, recently rented about 14,000 square feet of office space on La Cienega Boulevard. David E. Kelley Productions, creator of the TV show "Ally McBeal" and others, has rented 15,000 square feet of storage space. Air freight companies, meanwhile, are hungry for warehouses and offices near the airport.

Forum fate uncertain

CarMax, a large retailer that sells new and used cars, plans to set up shop on 16 acres in an Inglewood redevelopment zone, just west of the San Diego (405) Freeway.

"Inglewood is very business-friendly these days," Eichenstein said. "And one of the biggest thank-you notes the city should write is to Caltrans and the 405 Freeway. You have more company presidents who get on the 405 Freeway to drive to Carson or elsewhere and get stuck in traffic near Los Angeles International Airport, right by Inglewood."

As for the Forum, its fate is uncertain. It will remain open until the end of the year, but big decisions are looming. Jerry Buss sold it last year to L.A. Arena Co., the same firm that owns Staples Center. The new owners are weighing several options on the future of the property, which encompasses 50 to 60 acres. A decision will be made in the next month or two, said Tim Leiweke, president of Staples Center.

Whatever happens, Inglewood has definitely lost a major part of its identity. Ever since the Lakers moved to the city in 1967, the team and the town were linked.

Lemoyne Turner Jr., the 25-year-old owner of the Market Street Gumbo Shack, attended Kelso Elementary School, right across the street from the Forum. You couldn't find a student there who didn't know the name of every single Lakers player, he said.

"If they won a championship game, the students would go across the street, sit and watch the parade they would have for them in Inglewood," Turner recalled. Years later, Turner would steal away for a few hours away from his popular downtown Inglewood restaurant to catch a Sunday game at the nearby Forum.

Now he and his friends have to watch the games on television.

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