Rendering of Metro plans for Mariachi Plaza. Source: Metro

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How can we ensure stakeholder input has value and is incorporated into planning? And, in so doing, help the community feel comfortable in trusting Metro to make sure that happens?

The queries, posed by Metro Board Member Jacqueline Dupont-Walker to Metro CEO Art Leahy during Tuesday’s Planning Committee meeting were in response to Boyle Heights residents’ complaints that Metro had failed to seek adequate community input on a potential development at Mariachi Plaza that would fundamentally transform the area.

She was right to ask.

Despite promises made in 2012 that, “prior to seeking Metro Board approval [for projects at Mariachi Plaza and other area sites], staff will be conducting a meeting to update the community regarding th[ese] development site[s],” no notice seems to have been given ”” either to the community or the advisory committee for the Eastside Access project ”” about Tuesday’s motion to allow Metro to enter into an 18-month Exclusive Negotiation Agreement and Planning Document (ENA) with Primestor Development.

An ENA grants Primestor ”” one of four applicants who submitted proposals for Metro’s RFP to develop the Mariachi Plaza parcels ”” the space to further develop their plans, work out the terms of a Joint Development Agreement (JDA), work out ground leases with Metro, and pull together the appropriate construction documents.

According to Metro, Primestor won out over the other applicants because of their track record with financing, commitment to job creation, “well-conceived proposal,” “attractive, transit-oriented design,” and expanded development footprint, made possible by their decision to “partner” with a neighboring property owner.

Specifically, that means that the buildings now housing J&F Ice Cream, Santa Cecilia restaurant, and Libros Schmibros (in green, above) will be turned into “retail and commercial office space that could provide a combination of food and beverage retail opportunities [and] a fitness center.”

The vacant lot at Bailey (the grey square below, at right) will be converted into an 8-story office building with 6 floors (528 spaces) of parking and 2 floors of medical offices, helping address the spillover demand for medical services from White Memorial Hospital (which sits across the street from the lot).

Together, the two buildings would provide 120,570 square feet of commercial space and be called “La Plaza del Mariachi.”

If that design comes as a surprise to you, either because of the notion that six stories’ worth of parking falls under the definition of “transit-oriented design,” because retail space appears to be built on the plaza itself, or because the murals that speak to the culture and history of the area and help define the space would be forever lost, you are not alone.

When Metro held meetings on the future plans for several properties along the Gold Line corridor in December of 2012 (see background here) and February of 2013, much of the community’s attention had been focused on fighting A Community of Friends’ (ACOF) plan to put affordable housing at 1st and Lorena. Residents believed they had been promised a pocket park there by Metro and objected to the added congestion and chaos 53 units could invite into the area.

Discussions about what to do with the Mariachi Plaza parcels were notably absent.

“That’s what was amazing tonight,” Greg Angelo, Metro’s Director of Real Property Management and Development had told SBLA writer Kris Fortin after the December 2012 meeting, “The bulk of the conversation was about [the] Lorena [and 1st site]. And nobody said anything about Mariachi [Plaza], which shocked me.”

My best guess for why that might have been the case was that the plans being tossed around at the time were quite vague and did not have anywhere near the scope (or footprint) that they appear to have now.

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