Earvin "Magic" Johnson has once again joined the team negotiating to redevelop Santa Barbara Plaza in the Crenshaw District.

And with Johnson Development Co. on board, the project, once envisioned as a nondescript big-box power center, is being redesigned into a major entertainment destination reminiscent of Santa Monica's popular Third Street Promenade.

Jerde Partnership International Inc. of Universal CityWalk fame has been brought in to design the project.

Initial plans call for the Santa Barbara Plaza site to be connected in some way with the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza Mall and its popular Magic Johnson Theatres multiplex, located directly across Marlton Avenue, either via a pedestrian walkway or by closing off Marlton.

"We're either going to fully close the street or create a pedestrian walkway that gives you the same feel as Third Street Promenade," said Chris Hammond, CEO of Capital Vision Equities, lead developer on the project.

Capital Vision, which has quietly bought up 32 of the 37 properties that make up the 23-acre project site, has tapped Johnson Development to finance the 300,000-square-foot project.

Hammond said Capital Vision is in talks to bring in a developer with a strong retail background on the project as well, but declined to give names of possible candidates.

The developer wants to anchor the project with medium-sized tenants that would benefit from proximity to Magic Johnson Theatres. Among the possibilities are restaurants and retailers such as Old Navy and The Gap, both of which have shown interest in the project, according to Capital Vision officials.

The news comes just after Community Redevelopment Agency officials decided to grant Capital Vision exclusive negotiating rights for the site, a decision that still requires city approval.

Johnson Development has agreed to finance the project, while Capital Vision will handle the day-to-day development duties, Hammond said.

Hammond declined to give details of Johnson Development's stake in the project, and Johnson Development officials were not available for comment.

Pro football player Keyshawn Johnson is also investing in the project.

"It's fluid in regards to financing, but I think we've made massive progress by assembling the parcels and getting the city to sign on to an exclusive right (to negotiate)," Hammond said.

Previously, the city had granted those rights to a group headed by Johnson Development, but city officials pulled the plug as time passed and the CRA and developer could not reach agreement on the amount of the public subsidies for the project.

The fallout included a public spat between Magic Johnson and Mark Ridley Thomas, in whose council district the project site is located. Thomas was not immediately available for comment last week.

Under the prior plan, major anchors that had looked at Santa Barbara Plaza opted to go in other directions instead Home Depot to Capital Vision's own Chesterfield Square at Western and Slauson avenues, and Wal-Mart to the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza Mall across the street.

Hammond said successfully developing the project will still require treading carefully, to ensure that the developers, retail tenants, city officials and community leaders will be able to stay "under one tent" and avoid getting mired again.

"The only way this project is going to get built is to bring everybody together on this project," Hammond said. "I'm not sure everybody was on the same page before."

Another necessary ingredient will be public aid, Hammond said.

"We're hoping for a combination of straight subsidy and 'increment' from the project," he said. (Increment refers to the incremental increase in the area's tax base, which under redevelopment law flows through to the CRA to repay bonds used to finance a project.)

Magic Johnson and Keyshawn Johnson, also an investor in Capital Vision's Chesterfield Square, will use their name recognition to attract tenants. (Magic and Keyshawn are not related.)

"Both Keyshawn and Magic will be making calls to potential tenants," Hammond said. "They are important players in our community. It's all about these guys trying to give back to the community. There is also this whole history of the project I'm trying not to ignore this has been a promise to the community for 15 years."

Not far from Santa Barbara Plaza, Capital Vision and Katell Properties are jointly building the $75 million, 275,000-square-foot Chesterfield Square, the largest commercial development to be undertaken in South Central L.A. in a decade.

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