After years of languishing in downtown's shadow, Chinatown is poised to become the next frontier for mixed-use development.


Several projects are expected to break ground within the next year that could spark even further interest in the area, including a major residential, retail and cultural center complex next to the Metro Gold Line station and a massive apartment complex on the southwest side of Chinatown.


Also on tap for next year are an adaptive reuse project and an affordable housing building. Other projects are in the planning stages and could break ground in the next couple of years.


"This activity is long overdue and we hope it's a catalyst for future development," said Charles Woo, chief executive of Megatoys Inc., who is also president of the Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council that includes Chinatown.


Assuming these projects go forward, they have the power to change the character of one of L.A.'s oldest neighborhoods, established nearly 150 years ago to accommodate Chinese laborers brought in to build wagon routes and then lay railroad tracks. The current Chinatown is about a mile to the northwest of the original settlement, which was razed in 1933 to make way for Union Station.


Chinatown went into decline in the 1950s after the Hollywood (101) Freeway sliced through the community. Small family-owned shops that dominated the neighborhood struggled to make ends meet. Starting in the 1970s, a new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs moved to newer communities in the San Gabriel Valley, leaving behind a large population of elderly and poor residents.


In 1980, the L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency declared the area blighted and set about building affordable housing projects. But the private investment needed to bring new market housing or commercial development didn't materialize.


When developers did broach projects, they often were met with stiff resistance from community activists who said the proposals were out of character for the neighborhood. Most notable was the intense opposition to a warehouse project proposed for the Cornfield, a 47-acre former rail yard bordering on Chinatown. That land is now being turned into a state park.


'The right time'
In recent years, the completion of the Gold Line, fa & #231;ade and streetscape improvements and a spillover effect from the hot downtown market have made Chinatown a more attractive place for developers of mixed-use projects. "It's the right time now for development. The pieces are all in place," said Bibiana Yung, the CRA's assistant project manager for Chinatown.

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