Exposition Park residents anticipate arrival of $1.5 billion Lucas Museum of Narrative Art
In three years, a sprawling parking lot for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the Exposition Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles, will be transformed into $1.5 billion worth of art exhibitions and almost 11 acres of green space.
Construction on the much anticipated Lucas Museum of Narrative Art began on March 14, after a groundbreaking event, complete with dirt shoveling by famous film director and museum founder George Lucas and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
While there is a lot of hype and excitement around the endeavor, some community leaders in the area are concerned the museum will bring gentrification without delivering on its promises to bolster economic opportunity and job growth for current residents.
For Ron Gochez, parliamentarian for the South Central Neighborhood Council (SCNC), the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art has potential to benefit the community, but he’s worried the development will ultimately lead to the displacement of low-income residents in the area.
“I just don’t know what cost it’s going to come with to the community because obviously the neighborhood that is directly adjacent to it is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city of LA, and that new Lucas Museum is undoubtedly going to raise property values and rents in the area,” Gochez said. “That’s the part that’s really most concerning to us.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Exposition Park’s median household income of $33,999 is in the bottom 10 percent of the city’s 272 neighborhoods.
Gochez sees similarities between the Lucas construction and the construction of the Staples Center in downtown LA during the late ’90s. He said the Staples Center pushed out small businesses and residents in the area.
“The majority of people in our neighborhood are renters and the majority of owners of the buildings in the area do not live in the neighborhood,” he said. Gochez fears those are the perfect conditions for displacement to strike.
Myesha Ward, the director of community affairs for the Lucas Museum, said they are hoping to become “partners with the community by providing a cultural benefit as well as an economic benefit to the area.”
The Museum’s construction promises to bring an estimated 1,000 temporary construction jobs and after it opens pledges to provide 350 permanent positions. Ward said museum officials are “very committed to hiring folks from the community.”
On May 23, Hathaway Dinwiddie, the general contractor for the project, is hosting a local hire outreach event to inform the community about construction job opportunities for the museum.
Because the project is privately funded by the Lucas family, it is not bound to local hire provisions typically required for developments by the city government. According to a description of the local hire event on the Hathaway Dinwiddie website, the Lucas Museum’s Continuity of Work Agreement requires contractors to “exert their best efforts to hire local workers to perform at least 30 percent of total work hours.” Local workers are considered residents from within a five mile radius of the museum site.
Ward said the employment information session later this month will allow people in the area to learn how they can work construction for the museum.
“We don’t have quotas but we are committed to making sure that we are working with folks from the community, working with worksource centers and working with the unions to make sure that we have qualified folks from the community working on our side,” she said.
Gochez isn’t sure the “best effort” local hiring initiatives will work out.
“These big development projects always come in saying that they are going to hire 20 to 30 percent of local hires,” he said. “It’s one of those nice things that they say, and they say it because they know it’s not going to happen. Now, once the building is up and running and they need people to clean it and work the restaurants or whatnot. Yeah, those can be local hires, but obviously those are minimum wage jobs.”
Gochez said while those low-earning positions are better than nothing, they’re not likely to change much for current residents. “I mean, it’s great that we are going to have a world class art museum in our community, but I don’t think it’s going to economically benefit the people really in the community.”
In addition to the local hire efforts, Hathaway Dinwiddie is supporting bids from businesses not typically involved in large construction projects. These businesses are often small and employ a large number of minorities, women, and veterans. Lucas officials will track whether construction bids are going to businesses with these designations.
Ashley Mahaffey Tullius, the CEO of Don H. Mahaffey Drilling Company in Compton, would like to submit a bid for the drilling work at the Lucas project. The Mahaffey family has been in the drilling industry for nearly 100 years. She said the Lucas Museum development provides a great opportunity for her small company, with a staff of approximately 15 people, to thrive.
“I’m sure you can imagine it’s important for a small family owned business to be able to bid on a variety of projects and to get a variety of work,” Tullius said. “We try to bid on anything that has our scope in it; we’re trying to grow, which is easier said than done.”
Before settling on LA, the Lucas Museum team also considered San Francisco and Chicago as possible locations. The bid ultimately ended up in Southern California partially due to efforts from the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone collective (SLATE-Z).
Founded in 2014, the group applied for a large section of South LA, including parts of Exposition Park, to become a federally designated “Promise Zone.” That classification, acquired in 2016, allows the area to receive large amounts of government funding for community projects over the course of 10 years.
While it’s not clear how much the South LA Promise Zone has received so far, another Promise Zone encompassing LA’s Koreatown and Hollywood neighborhoods received more than $100 million in federal grants since receiving the designation in 2014.
Effie Turnbull-Sanders, the executive director of SLATE-Z, said one of their biggest accomplishments was getting 23 high-profile Los Angeles residents to endorse building the Lucas Museum in Exposition Park. That backing helped tip the scales in favor of LA getting the museum.
Turnbull-Sanders said Lucas Family initiatives are grounded in “promoting local hiring practices in the surrounding Exposition Park community,” and have a “very strong program that SLATE-Z has supported.”
The organization is making sure “there is a community voice with respect to development in the area so that residents will be able to stay, remain, and thrive in the communities which they are currently located,” she said.
Turnbull-Sanders acknowledges the risk of gentrification displacement presented by this project. She said SLATE-Z is partnering with South LA based community organizations to promote affordable housing, and provide resources for local businesses, to temper possible negative impacts from the museum’s construction.
“It’s impossible to stop them at this point, so we just have to educate the community,” Gochez said. “The only thing that we can do is advise people to, if possible, purchase their homes, and for the homeowners who are here not to sell because the prices are going to skyrocket once this project — and many other projects — that are coming [are completed].”
In terms of potential cultural benefits for Exposition Park residents, the museum will have 300,000 square feet of floor area with exhibitions ranging from painting to experiencing classic cinema techniques. Lucas officials promise to foster community education by featuring public lectures, hands-on workshops, after-school programs, and other educational opportunities for children. The museum’s grounds will also include a small amphitheater and a refurbished soccer field.
“We are hoping to be strong partners, such as the other museums, and really be an opportunity to inspire young people of all ages to come into our museum and learn about narrative art and to see themselves reflected in the museum,” Ward said.
Gochez isn’t convinced the offerings at the Lucas Museum will ultimately serve the surrounding community.
“The reality is, as someone who works in the community, lives in this community, is from the community, it’s the majority of the people here are not exactly museum-going, high-end art-type folks,” he said. “I just don’t know that the Lucas Museum is for the existing community there. That’s the problem.”
In addition to his work with the SCNC, Gochez is a teacher at Maya Angelou Community High School in South Park. Even with his doubts, he pledges to make the most of the museum once it is completed in 2021.
“I’m going to advocate for the community as much as possible to access these facilities that a lot of the time we don’t feel very welcome in,” Gochez said. “It’s going to be our responsibility, as a neighborhood council and as advocates in the community, to make sure that we are welcome there and that we promote it in the neighborhood so we also have access to it.”