Little Tokyo Meets Competing Metro Station Developers

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Concepts presented for development around Regional Connector.

Jonathan Kaji presents his company’s proposal, Ekibashi.

Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Church’s main hall was awash with picture boards and eager presenters hoping to be selected to design and build Metro’s long-awaited Regional Connecter station in Little Tokyo.

Four entities, winnowed now from eight developers, presented their concepts at a community open house on Oct. 17, pitching concepts that included such elements as affordable and market-rate housing, an office building, restaurants, public art, and a hotel.

The Regional Connector is a $1.756 billion, 1.9-mile underground light-rail system connecting the Metro Gold Line to the Seventh Street/Metro Center Station. When completed in 2022, it will become a direct connection between Azusa and Long Beach and between East Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

The new Little Tokyo/Arts District station will be located on First Street between Central Avenue and Alameda Street and is one of three new stations. Other sites are the Historic Broadway station (Second and Broadway) and Grand Avenue Arts/Bunker Hill station (Second Place and Hope Street).

Hector Rodriguez, designer with FSY Architects, explains the LTSC vision for the new Metro station.

The developers are:

Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) – a Community Development Corporation (LTSC CDC) and nonprofit charitable organization based in Little Tokyo that serves as a resource for diverse populations in Los Angeles. LTSC is currently partnered with Metro to build 160-200 affordable housing units and approximately 15,000-20,000 square feet of commercial and social service space at the Vermont/Santa Monica station.

Centre Urban Real Estate Partners – a privately held real estate investment, development, advisory, and asset management company with offices in Little Tokyo at 420 E. Third St. (informally referred to as the “doctors’ building”). Centre Urban and its affiliates’ portfolio includes multi-family and commercial office buildings in Southern California and in the Midwest. Its core business involves property acquisition, development, and asset management.

Kaji & Associates – a business consultancy focused on meeting the unique needs of companies doing business in the Asia Pacific region. Led by president Jonathan Kaji, the company is based in the Gardena-Torrance area and is involved in real estate, economic development, international trade, and emerging technologies. Kaji proposed that financing for the station project be raised from the community donations.

Innovative Housing Opportunities (IHO) – a company that develops and builds affordable housing for residents from a variety of cultures, language groups, and mobility levels. With offices in Santa Ana and downtown Los Angeles, IHO works to develop partnerships that create strategies that offer residents the opportunity to learn skills that help them to enter or re-enter the workplace.

The Little Tokyo/Arts District station site is smaller than many of Metro’s typical development sites and constrained by Metro transit infrastructure limitations. Still, the station is destined to become an important transportation hub due to its proximity less than a mile south of Union Station.

Rochelle Mills, president and CEO of Innovative Housing Opportunities, describes the 360-degree design concept.

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