Leimert Park's businesses are preparing for the Liemert Park Station in 2020.
For some communities, a newly established Metro stop might not make a substantial impact on the environment. But for Leimert Park business leaders, the upcoming addition introduces the opportunity for a complete revitalization of their neighborhood.
In May of 2013, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved a plan to construct an underground subway station in Leimert Park by 2020. Shortly afterwards in January of 2014, Leimert Park stakeholders – including community leaders, business owners, urban designers, lawmakers, and other individuals – came together to establish the 2020 Vision Initiative – a collaborative plan that looks to implement economic and business strategies that would help reinvigorate their community’s businesses by the time of the station’s launch.
The Leimert Park station will located at the intersection of Crenshaw and Vernon and will be apart of the Crenshaw/LAX Line. The stop will connect commuters to Metro’s Green and Expo lines, which will give riders a direct connection to the Los Angeles International Airport as well as cities as far away as Long Beach.
Through two-hour discussions hosted every Monday in Leimert Park's historic Vision Theatre, the group looks at how their initiative can stimulate poor performing businesses in the Leimert Park Village marketplace. Currently, the Village is occupied by the Vision Theatre, a small park named Leimert Park Plaza, retail shops and a handful of restaurants.
So far, the initiative’s team has implemented their Leimert Park Village branding process which aims to brand the community and formally legitimize the term “Leimert Park Village” in hopes of attracting commercial and cultural industries.
To sculpt their brand, stakeholders have been conducting local surveys to see how residents identify the Village. The process has also included launching the Village’s website and social media accounts as well as creating Village logo concepts.
In addition, in February of 2015, stakeholders worked with the Department of Transportation to close of a portion of 43rd place in front of the Vision Theatre to create the People’s Street, a public space for educational events and recreational activities like outdoor painting, playing chess and hosting live music events.
Over the last two years, the initiative has also held numerous charrettes, which function as community visioning conventions. The events let Leimert residents weigh in on various plans being considered for the neighborhood.
Sherri Franklin is a thought leader for the initiative and the founder of Urban Design Center, a firm that provides pro bono community visioning for the 2020 initiative. She was also one of the initiative’s founding stakeholders. Franklin believes one of the next steps the initiative needs to focus on is altering the audience the village targets.
“We have to attract people here on a daily basis,” Franklin said. “It’s hard for businesses to survive with our event-based audience. We don’t have a daily audience here so it’s a different kind of business environment.”
Franklin added that the initiative is working with shop owners to evaluate new opportunities that can attract customers. She said this might come from altering business’ interior designs so owners can offer more products and services. Stakeholders believe the new Metro line will also help help create and more Monday thru Friday audience in the Village.
Franklin noted that most of the business owners in Leimert Park Village are artists or formerly retired individuals, so they haven't been as progressive with their businesses as others in the community. This issue, she said, will soon be addressed by the initiative.
“We need to help partner [artists and retired individuals] with more innovative ideas so their businesses can survive,” Franklin said.
Clinton Rosemond, co-chair for the 2020 Vision Initiative, echoed Franklin’s claims. He believes a successful modern business model strives off of consumer's ever-changing interests and desires.
“We need business that can provide products that are tested and true to what people want, but are also sensitive to the fact that people communicate and shop differently now,” Rosemond said. “The computers that everyone walks around with have changed the world and how everything happens in it. To help business adapt to that reality is a part of our challenge too and so we have to find a way to do that.”
In addition to supporting already established businesses, the 2020 Vision Initiative is working to create spaces for new businesses as well.
“There’s a lot of new types of businesses that the community says they want,” Franklin said.
Through a survey released in 2014, stakeholders found that local residents would like to have more bakeries, coffee shops, sit down restaurants and grocery stores in their community.
In response, stakeholders established “Leimert Tank,” a program designed to discover local entrepreneurs that hope to bring their small businesses to Leimert Park Village. The program was based off of ABC’s show Shark Tank and functioned very similarly; Entrepreneurs would pitch their business ideas to investors in hope of receiving financial assistance to further their projects.
Unfortunately for stakeholders, Franklin said most entrepreneurs weren’t prepared to develop their concepts.
“What we found was we had a lot of novices who weren’t ever in business, and that doesn’t work,” Franklin said. “The applicants needed to go through more of a maturation process.”
Instead, Franklin and other shareholders paired the entrepreneurs with local business development centers like Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation.
“Those business can develop, but we need to procure business the are operating, want to expand or have some experience in bricks-and-mortar [services],” Franklin said. “Also, their visions have to be realistic.”
In response to underwhelming business pitches, the Leimert Tank team is now recruiting successful entrepreneurs in the community that would be willing to expand or relocate to Leimert Park.
Stakeholders are also looking to replace the Village’s sidewalks as well as all potted plants and the pots that hold them. Additionally, community leaders are looking to move forward with a design concept for a potential African American Cultural and Convention Center that would be built in the lot behind the Vision Theatre – another addition Franklin believes will make the Village an even more impressive cultural district in Los Angeles.
Stakeholders agree the history and cultural significance of Leimert Park makes it a more desirable destination, which gives the Village an advantage over other L.A communities. Franklin said working with Leimert Park’s diverse businesses and residents is both and challenge and an opportunity.
“This is not your standard boulevard,” Franklin said. “It is an enclave of businesses that have to figure out an innovate way to survive and when that happens I think it’s going to be a wonderful template for communities throughout the country.”
Take a 360° look at the diverse Leimert Plaza Park, Leimert Park's district center. As Franklin said, Leimert Park is an enclave of businesses, however it holds many cultural events as well. Leimert Park is a neighborhood in South Los Angeles known for its contemporary African-American arts scene. Every Sunday, community members sell goods and later join together to experience the weekly drum circle. See for yourself and look around.