Long-Term Redevelopment Gaining Ground at Complex
Spotlight On Exposition Park
By HOWARD FINE
Exposition Park should be one of the shining jewels of the L.A. landscape. Inside the 160-acre park south of downtown L.A. is the historic Memorial Coliseum used in two Olympics, and the largest natural history and science museums in the western U.S. Just across the street is USC, one of the nation’s most respected and heavily endowed private universities.
But for much of the last 20 years, the story of Exposition Park and its surrounding neighborhood has been of urban decay and lost opportunities. Crime soared, businesses left, and the park itself became something of an eyesore with acres of empty asphalt parking lots.
The nadir was reached in the early and mid-1990s, as first the L.A. riots swept through, followed by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake that damaged the Coliseum. Then the L.A. Raiders went back to Oakland, followed three years later by the L.A. Clippers, who moved from the L.A. Sports Arena to Staples Center.
Now, the Exposition Park neighborhood seems to be making a comeback, thanks to a multi-pronged revitalization effort. Inside the state-owned and operated park, a massive, 20-year, $1 billion makeover that was approved in 1993 is taking shape.
“Before this master plan, the park was underutilized and disorganized,” said L.A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Now, there’s no single parcel in L.A. that’s had more development and redevelopment activity than Exposition Park.”
In 1998, a $300 million renovation of California Science Center was the first project to be completed. A $140 million second phase is slated to start next year and finish in 2006, featuring marine and ecosystem exhibits.
Numerous smaller projects have been completed or are in the works: a $3 million upgrade to the California African-American Museum, a new Air and Space Gallery for the science center, restoration of the Olympic swimming pool, a seismic upgrade and facelift for the Sports Arena, and a community and recreation center.
Science learning center
Scheduled for completion in 2004 is a public-private partnership between the state-run science center, the Los Angeles Unified School District and Amgen Inc. to build a science-oriented elementary school and a center for science learning specializing in programs on how to teach science.
On the horizon: a $300 million renovation of the Natural History Museum, new community parks, and a $30 million underground parking garage.
“The garage will allow us to free up a lot of the unattractive surface parking lots for park space and other recreational uses,” said Acting Exposition Park Manager Jon Gibby.
Outside the park, a similar transformation is taking place, if not on quite as large a scale. Last year, a $45 million L.A. County Department of Public Social Services building was constructed. Next door, 140 units of senior housing are slated for a vacant lot, at a cost of $19 million.
Nearby Vermont Avenue itself is getting a long-overdue facelift with a $3 million streetscape improvement project funded by the city. An additional $800,000 has been allocated for fa & #231;ade improvements.
Meanwhile, local community pressure has forced several liquor stores to close down; some of those sites are being converted into local retail uses.
Also, the Figueroa Corridor Business Improvement District, established four years ago, has helped clean up Figueroa and adjacent streets and set up bike patrols that have helped reduce crime in the area.
Funding for the other projects comes partly from government money: state funds for the expansion of the California Science Center, for example, and city funds for some of the planned park expansions. But the science center and each of the other institutions in the park also have launched their own capital campaigns to raise the bulk of the funds for their expansions and upgrades.
Despite these efforts, the two major sports facilities in Exposition Park have yet to find replacements for the National Football League and National Basketball Association teams that left the park during the 1990s.