Shaul Kuba is a principal and founder of CIM Group Inc., a savvy development company that has played a big role in Hollywood's renaissance. Now, CIM has set its sights on the Crenshaw Corridor, where it is co-developing parcels owned by the West Angeles Community Development Corp. into two separate mixed-use projects. In fact, Kuba likes the area so much that he said his Los Angeles firm will develop as much as it can there, despite the negative reputation the area has in some quarters. The Business Journal discussed the challenges and opportunities of the area in a recent interview with him:

Question: What attracted you to the Crenshaw Corridor?

Answer: I think the number one thing is really the density and the low amount of retail it's not balanced. There is in my opinion a remarkable opportunity to create retail. I wouldn't say necessarily upscale retail but more mainstream retail. A lot of retailers have a perception problem with the area. That is something that needs to be overcome.

Q: Do projects along the Crenshaw Corridor pencil?

A: Absolutely. There is a problem in Los Angeles that real estate prices are going up and it doesn't matter whether you are at Mid-City, South L.A., or other parts of the city. Land is becoming more and more expensive. We are looking for other new opportunities that are a little bit more affordable. And the Crenshaw Corridor area certainly in the beginning seemed to have more affordable land. Not so much anymore. That was the first thing we started looking at, at how much cheaper is the real estate. All the grants and all of that it's important but it's not really what attracted us. Not one of the projects we are doing has any subsidies or grants.

Q: Will the light rail Expo Line, which is scheduled for 2010, help attract the sort of retail that the area needs?

A: I don't know that it will necessarily create more of an opportunity for retail. What I think it will do for the area is it will give it more accessibility. If somebody doesn't have a car for a job and now he can hop on a train and go to downtown L.A., to Long Beach, or to Hollywood; it will create more economic growth for the community. It would open an opportunity for people to get to work in a reasonable time. You're hopping on the train and in 10 minutes you are downtown. All of the sudden, rather than people spending money on buying a car, buying gasoline, and paying for maintenance, for $3 a day they can be anywhere they want in the city.

Q: So the light rail will help generate more disposable income for residents who will save money on transportation or who can use light rail to travel to better jobs?

A: Yes, absolutely. Let's be realistic, you are going to have a little bit more money in the community, to spend more money on retail in the community and support it. But people are not going to come from outside that community to shop.

Q: Will that ever happen?

A: I want to say yes, but it is going to be very hard to attract people from outside of that area to do shopping. It would be great if you can service that community in its entirety so they don't have to feel like they cannot get their own shopping done in their own neighborhood.

Q: What do you think of the concerns of area residents who are wary of "big-box" developments ruining the culture of the Crenshaw Corridor?

A: I think it's a combination of two things. You want to have local character but at the same time to create the economic base you need retailers who can really do big volume. That is what creates the economic base. You don't want it all to be big-box retailers. So you want to have a good balance of local and larger businesses.

Q: Does CIM plan to work with local businesses?

A: Absolutely, we always do. I think that is what makes it fun and exciting. First of all, they have local knowledge and ideas for what the community needs. It is important to somehow always incorporate that into a project. It doesn't matter if it's downtown Anaheim, South L.A. or downtown L.A.

Q: Has CIM's partnership with the West Angeles Community Development Corp. been productive?

A: I think this is the best partnership we have ever had. Coming to a neighborhood you don't know, it's very important to have a good partner. West Angeles Church has been a wonderful partner. The depth of knowledge and the relationship they have with this community is amazing. We think this is the vehicle for at least, if not more than, $100 million of development. From our perspective we feel we have an unbelievable foundation with this group. I think from here it's just a matter of processing deals as fast as we can.

Q: Besides the two CIM projects currently announced, are there concrete plans for others?

A: We have ideas. We are looking at creating housing, affordable retail and office space. Who the hell builds office space in south Los Angeles? But you know what? People need office space in South Los Angeles. There are a ton of small businesses that need decent offices in South L.A. All these products are desperately needed and we plan on being in that community for a long time.

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