Into the 'Woods

Into the 'Woods

A development boom is coming to Inglewood. A number of high profile projects are coming to the predominantly African-American and Latino city of 110,000 adjacent to South Los Angeles. Major urban development is underway, from the construction of a new metro rail line to the multi-billion dollar redevelopment of the Hollywood Park Racetrack with residential, retail, hotels, and a brand new 80,000-seat stadium for a recently approved NFL team’s relocation.

It’s a significant about-face for the city, which has long been associated with gang crime and its proximity to the flight paths and runways of LAX. But with this development comes concern, mainly about how these new projects will change the community. Some are worried that this new wave of development will end up displacing longtime residents—through rising property values, increased competition for local businesses, and outright gentrification.

“There is a fear now that Inglewood has been, for lack of a better term, ‘rediscovered.’ Because for many decades, Inglewood’s just kind of been here and nobody’s cared about Inglewood or thought about Inglewood one way or the other,” said Anne Cheek La Rose, a 27-year resident. She says renewed attention will inevitably result in some change. “But any thinking person, it appears to me, would understand that gentrification is not necessarily a bad thing. It is the way that it is done that can make it bad,” she added.

“I don’t think people really understand that it’s already in motion,” said Odest Riley Jr., CEO of the Inglewood-based real estate company WLM Financial. He says the big new developments are only fueling a process that been underway for years. “I have people come to me and say ‘I really want to move to Inglewood,’ and I’m like, ‘You’re already priced out. It’s too late. The houses are selling for $400,000, $500,000. You should have bought two or three years ago, when they were giving them away.’”

The redevelopment of Hollywood Park was for years seen as a catalytic project. Before the stadium was included in its scope, a mixed-use neighborhood and entertainment complex redevelopment had been in the works since 2005. After Hollywood Park was sidelined by the recession, many worried the momentum wouldn’t pick back up.

But the election of former Santa Monica police chief James T. Butts Jr. in 2011 ushered in a new political machine friendly to development and outside investment.

“Since the Mayor and Council got started, it’s been like gangbusters,” said Erick Holly, director of the Inglewood Airport Area Chamber of Commerce. He cites the 2012 deal with the Madison Square Garden Company to buy and renovate the Forum indoor arena as the jump-start to the boom.

While the stadium project and the revived Hollywood Park redevelopment are the biggest developments on the books in Inglewood, smaller projects around the new metro stations can be similarly transformative. The Pasadena-based planning and urban design firm the Arroyo Group is currently creating a downtown destination for the city: A transit-oriented plan for “the New Downtown Inglewood” that will add housing, retail, and commercial development centered on Market Street, near the new metro station at La Brea and Florence.

“That makes a whole new ecosystem of a community right there,” said Riley. “Who are those people that are going to rent right there? Who’s going to move in? They’re probably not going to be at the same income level as the people living here now.”

But Holly argued that new downtown developments only add to the city. “Those lots are dirt right now,” he said. No one will be displaced, he reasoned, but it’s hard to predict what impact hundreds of new residential units and chain retail will have.

Many claim change is needed. “Inglewood is interesting because it has a downtown that is literally unknown,” said architect Christopher Mercier of local (fer) studio. He said the city has been overshadowed by its big venues, such as Hollywood Park and the Forum, and is hoping for neighborhood-scale development. “All of those things became the brand of Inglewood, but it never had a city brand. Like you say Santa Monica or Burbank, you always picture a city. But when you say Inglewood you don’t picture a city. You picture these other things.”

While he sees the catalytic potential of the projects on the way, Mercier is cautiously optimistic about their impact. However, there’s still uncertainty about the future of the Hollywood Park site.

In mid-January, the NFL’s owners approved the relocation of the St. Louis Rams back to Los Angeles, the city the team left after the 1994 season. Rams owner Stan Kroenke and the Stockbridge Capital Group have formed a partnership to develop the stadium for the Rams and another as-yet unconfirmed NFL team. The project is expected to open in 2019.

Holly explained that the project is moving ahead, and its impact will ripple throughout Inglewood. Many potentially transformative projects are still in the pre-development stage, so it’s too early to predict their effects. But Inglewood residents are watching closely.

“I think there’s two types of people right now: We have the people who are fearful of any change—which is inevitable, change comes, and we have the people who are blindly waiting for something good to happen,” Riley said. “There needs to be a middle ground.”