The Korean American Museum slated for Koreatown added a housing component to its plan earlier this year that took the project from a three-story museum to a seven-story mixed-use building with 103 market-rate apartments above the museum. Plans for the mixed-use museum, designed by Gruen Associates, have just been unveiled to the public, says the Daily News, and will fit in nicely with The Vermont apartment towers and the housing around the adjacent Wilshire/Vermont station. But the museum is also getting a maybe-way-too-sweet deal on that site.
In a happening neighborhood like Koreatown, and in housing-hungry LA, new housing is usually good news. But some are unhappy about the deal, questioning the incredible bargain that the nonprofit behind the museum is getting for the city-owned lot where the mixed-use building would rise.
For starters, the nonprofit is going to rent the parking lot at Vermont and Sixth Street for $1 a year. That's not uncommon; in Encino, another nonprofit is renting out an old fire station for exactly that much. But that price was fixed before the project's housing component emerged. The way the museum's planned it, none of the revenue from the 103 new, market-rate apartments will go directly to the city; the money is set to go to the museum, to make it so they don't have to fundraise throughout the year. And apartments don't even include any units set aside for low-income renters or seniors.
Opponents say that this deal is a perfect example of how, by pretty much giving properties to nonprofits for free, the city is missing out on opportunities to make some money (which it badly needs for, say, repairs to LA's old, broken infrastructure, among other things). But supporters are happy that new housing is coming to the neighborhood, and boast that the museum will provide a cultural node that would benefit everyone. Councilmember Herb Wesson is among those supporters and has introduced a motion that would add the apartments to the approved lease for the museum, which was greenlit in 2013, pre-housing. It's on the docket for later this year.