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What Better Use?

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is struggling with a conflict between making the most of a valuable chunk of real estate at 725 N. Spring St., adjacent to Chinatown, and the not-necessarily-congruent proposal for a Chinese cultural center.

Three development proposals for the 1.7-acre site have been rejected by the supervisors, largely on economic grounds, and the administrative staff is in hot pursuit of the so-called “highest and best use” of the land. It is also in hot pursuit of the Community Redevelopment Agency on the assumption that the land might provide some of the peripheral parking wanted to serve new downtown office buildings, and this in turn might attract some CRA funding for the cultural center.

Making the most of the land and “highest and best use” have come to mean making the most money. The supervisors, constrained by the rigidities of Proposition 13, are and must be vigilant in their search for money. But this parcel and its potential for Chinatown are too important to be decided solely by balance-sheet considerations.

There is no doubt that a Chinese cultural center is needed, would enrich the downtown area, would complement in a marvelous way Chinatown itself. The splendid development of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center at 244 S. San Pedro St., also downtown, argues powerfully for the value of such a development. Furthermore, this county land and two adjacent county properties probably are the only sites where such an ambitious project could be implemented.

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This means that there should be agreement here and now that there is going to be a Chinese cultural center on the property. We can think of no higher or better use. Beyond that, decisions will follow as to what else can comfortably and appropriately be accommodated there to assure the county a reasonable return from the long-term lease. The challenge and opportunity should invite the attention of the most innovative developers.


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