After looking for a permanent home for fifteen years, the Korean American National Museum looks poised to make the corner of Sixth and Vermont the site of it's brand new facility. The Los Angeles City Council has just given the green light to the leasing of a city parking lot in Koreatown to the non-profit for construction of the Gruen Associates-designed museum celebrating Korean American culture. In a unanimous 11-0 decision, the council approved a $1-a-year lease for use of the land reports the Daily News. The museum plans to construct a seven-story mixed-use building with 103 apartments on the site.
There is some controversy surrounding the project, as the initial proposal to the city only included plans for the museum. That original lease was approved by city council officials in 2013, but the terms of the lease had to be amended and reapproved when the housing units were added to plans earlier this year.
It's not uncommon for cities to lease land to non-profits for cheap, but the addition of 103 rental units that generate income is unprecedented. Additionally, the lease's rate of $1 per year was set before the addition of the apartments, and no discussion of renegotiating terms was made by city councilmembers before voting on the amended lease. The city, though it rents the land to the museum, would not get any revenue from the on-site housing—all money brought in by the apartments would go towards the operational costs of the museum, thus eliminating the museum's need to regularly fundraise. The majority of rental units on the museum site would be priced at market-rate, with 10 percent (10 units) set aside for affordable housing.
While the museum gets to generate revenue from the apartment complex, the city doesn't really stand to gain anything more than that $1 each year. The museum, however, is getting a heck of deal for that buck. Some experts estimate the land itself is worth as much as $5 million and the apartments will generate $500,000 a year in revenue. While supporters like Councilman Herb Wesson likened the one-sided deal to simply "sharing" the parking lot space, opponents wonder if the city is giving away valuable parcels of land at a time when it could use the extra funds. The city's parking spots will also have to be relocated because of the project.
· LA City Council approves controversial Koreatown lease deal with no discussion [LADN]
· Los Angeles wants to strike an unusual land deal to support a Koreatown museum [LADN]
· First Glimpse of Koreatown's New Museum With Apartments [Curbed LA]