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As South L.A.'s Largest Building Project Approved, Businesses Move Out To Make Way

Alyssa Nakamoto |
December 11, 2012 | 11:14 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Rosalee Wright is a lifelong South LA resident and frequent visitor to UV (Alyssa Nakamoto).
Rosalee Wright is a lifelong South LA resident and frequent visitor to UV (Alyssa Nakamoto).
On a quiet Tuesday morning, Rosalee Wright sits in the International Food Court in University Village with her shopping bags from her day's trip. She comes here every day to just sit and relax with her sister. 

Wright shops often at many of the stores at University Village, like Dollar Dollar, Superior Market and Baskin Robbins. But these stores may not be here much longer.

Miles away at City Hall on Tuesday morning, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved the $1.1-billion USC-funded renovation plan for the "Village at USC."

The original plan, announced last October, included high-end retail stores, grocery stores, sit-down restaurants, as well as student housing, according to Kristina Raspe, USC Vice President for Real Estate and Asset Management. The plan also gave $2 million in "community benefits" for affordable housing.

That plan was rejected in August after it met opposition from area residents, business tenants at University Village, and even members of City Council, who feared it would push residents out of the area.

The university and the community together revised the plan, increasing the amount of "community benefits" from $2 million to $27 million. Of that, $20 million will go toward building affordable housing during the next two decades. USC must build 3,000 additional beds for students, and it can't demolish any existing housing until all those units are in place.

The revised plan was approved Tuesday. USC says construction could start as early as May 2013. "The Village at USC" will take about 6 to 10 years to complete.

"It's going to be shocking," Wright said while sitting in a building soon set to be demolished. "I've been coming here for so many years, it's going to be weird to see...the apartments and new stores around."

Wright says the new UV, as USC is envisioning it, would no longer serve her needs. She would lose the shops, as well as the branch of the Bank of America that she frequents. Wright said the only other Bank of America is too far away, though there's an ATM in the middle of USC's campus. 

University Village originally opened in 1976 as part of Norman H. Topping's 1961 Master Plan to build up the school. It was once a mix of small stores that fit the needs of USC students and residents of the South Central area. It contains repair shops, a Laundromat, a discount store, a bike shop, snack places, Superior grocery store, an International Food Court, and even a small movie theater.  It also had a pharmacy, at least up until Monday.

The owners of Village Pharmacy, with the help of members of CVS and a moving crew, packed 30 years worth of business into large boxes. On the store's windows were advertisements for medications, along with signs thanking customers for their business and support over the years. The owners were unable to comment, as they were rushing to pack their belongings into a moving van, but Wright said the closure will create an inconvenience for members of the community.

"They can go to the drug store at CVS, but a lot of them are old. They don't want to go that far," she said.

Now, many of the shops at UV are empty. Many business owners have closed their stores in anticipation of the project. Wright said they moved because they want to make as much money as they can, instead of wait to be bought out by USC. She said the optometrists and dentists have been slowly leaving University Village.

SEE ALSO: USC U.V. $1 Billion Makeover Leaves Shop Owners' Future Uncertain

Akm Alam owns Quik Pix photo shop. He opened it in 1981 when he was only 22 years old. He was not even aware that the pharmacy closed, but he is aware that he could be next. USC has been talking to Alam and other UV business owners indirectly through organizations.

"They just told us this week we can stay here until December next year," said Alam. "But after that we have to move out."

He said he feels fine about the approval of the "Village at USC." When he does have to leave University Village, he said he would prefer to stay in the area. After construction is finished, he says he hopes USC will let him come back to the new University Village.

Alam said he has a special affection for the community.

"It's absolutely more than a business," he said.

USC says the project will bring in $1.7 million in revenue and 8,000 permanent jobs to Los Angeles. Three in 10 of the jobs will be dedicated to residents living within five miles of USC, according to the university.

"Not only will the USC Village profoundly enrich our University Park Campus, it will be a tremendous boon for our surrounding neighborhoods, and for all of Los Angeles," said USC President C.L. Max Nikias in a statement.

Wright says that she believes that USC does care about the community, which is why it wants to change University Village. But she said she does not think the project will bring more jobs. Instead, she said the few jobs that will be available will probably be maintenance jobs. She also said the increase in affordable housing that USC offered has helped so far, but USC continues to want more property.

"USC is always buying, buying, buying. You just have to get used to it," says Wright.

Having lived around USC her entire life, Wright is used to this buying by now. In fact, USC almost bought her house a few years ago, but ultimately changed its mind.

"I don't forget about that. It's in my mind that they'll want to buy us out," she said.

Reach Staff Reporter Alyssa Nakamoto here.



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