Now that it looks like Madison Square Garden will indeed acquire the ailing Forum, I'm moving past my relief that the place won't become a parking lot or mixed-use development from hell, and wondering about the details of this deal. Basically I'm trying to figure out if the acquisition will ultimately do anything for the ailing city of Inglewood itself.
Columnist Betty Pleasant of the Wave newspaper raised excellent points about this in a column last month. First there's the fact that part of MSG's deal is an $18 million loan from the city of Inglewood's Community Redevelopment Agency. To begin with, CRA's were shuttered by the state earlier this year, raising questions about the timing of this. CRA projects that were under way by January 2011 were allowed to go forward, but the Inglewood city council only approved the $18 million in January 2012. Even if this loan qualifies, the appropriateness of the loan is another matter. CRA money is meant to attract developers, but is this an incentive to a developer or a giveaway? Nor is Madison Square Garden building anything, just taking something over. Inglewood Mayor James Butts argued in Pleasant's column that the $18 million is meant to keep MSG from going somewhere else. But the Forum isn't a prospective Target or a Wal-Mart; it's a unique property with a specific purpose that can't be acquired just any place.
Also I began thinking about the CRA in Inglewood generally -- what has the agency really done all the years that it had to do things? What are the other projects with CRA involvement begun prior to 2011 that are finishing up? I haven't heard of one. In all my years living here I've never seen any construction signs around announcing a CRA project. I've always been frustrated by the lack of redevelopment of Market Street, Inglewood's historic and sizeable downtown that used to be a retail center/gathering place but has long since been overgrown by swap meets and such. Years ago I sat down with Inglewood's CRA director who confessed that Inglewood had been steadily undone by the successful redevelopment of downtowns in more affluent neighboring places like Culver City and new "lifestyle center" projects like the Bridge in the Howard Hughes Center on Sepulveda. And there was the entire mall culture of the South Bay stretching from Manhattan Beach to Palos Verdes. He implied that because of all this activity, Inglewood had no real shot at development itself. It was essentially an orphan.
I remember being agitated at this analysis -- if that's what city officials thought of the city, they should all be fired. I know that deals are tough to make in "undesireable" communities like South Central and Inglewood, which are still living in the shadow of the civil unrest of 1992. I get the color-tinged politics of it. But that's even more reason why we need vision from local leaders and electeds whose job it is to make the successful argument that Inglewood is not only profitable, but desirable, a place of the future. I'm not asking to be Manhattan Beach, but I am asking not be sold short.
Butts also said that the "loan" will be repaid by MSG investing $50 million to rehab the Forum and make it into a major entertainment center that will draw people and business to Inglewood. That sounds good, but history is against the idea. We had the Forum for decades and even at its peak, the city failed to capitalize on all the traffic it created. People came and left, spent their money at the Forum and nowhere else -- not that there were a lot of places in town to spend it. It's been well-established that sports venues located in urban areas tend not to do much economically for the 'hood; a few concession jobs here and there, and that's it. The key is transforming the area around the venue itself so that it becomes part of the game or the event that people trek over here to see. Inglewood Live, anyone?
Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. Read all her posts here.