Chinatown Cultural Center Now in Doubt

Times Staff Writer

The first warning was a big blue-and-white sign that appeared on Hill Street in Chinatown about a month ago. “Lippo Group: Future Banking, Retail and Office Complex,” it said.

Not a word about a cultural center, a long-standing dream of the Chinatown community that local leaders thought Lippo was going to include in its project.

Plans for the center are in limbo because Lippo, which promised to donate space for it, has now told community leaders that they can buy the space--for what could be millions.

But Chinatown doesn’t have any money to spend, yet. Leaders have been trying to meet a December deadline from the city that would bring them $1.1 million in bond money for a cultural center.


But to get that money, the community must have a firm development agreement and a site by the end of the year.

Four months ago, local leaders chose Lippo, an Indonesian-Chinese banking group, over four other developers because it had made the most generous offer of space and financial help.

But now Lippo has scaled back its offer, said Chinese cultural center chairman Wilbur Woo, and “sort of left us out in the cold.”

Woo, a local banker and longtime community leader, heads a 25-member board appointed by City Councilwoman Gloria Molina early this year to work out plans for a cultural center. The bond funds were set aside for a center in 1985, according to a Community Redevelopment Agency spokeswoman, and must be committed by the end of this year or forfeited.


Site Purchased

Lippo bought a 3-acre site between Hill and Yale streets, just north of Ord Street, where it plans to headquarter its Bank of Trade. Plans include a 12-story office tower and a shopping complex.

Committee members say a crucial factor in choosing Lippo was its offer to give them 25,000 square feet of space. But Lippo spokeswoman Virginia White said, “There was never an offer of a gift of property.”

White said now that Lippo is offering “to see them buy one of our . . . parcels facing onto Yale . . . we would sell it to them at market price.” The group has also offered to donate $10,000 to the cultural center effort now and $100,000 in the future, she added.

One Yale parcel is about 14,000 square feet and the other about 40,000 square feet, White said. Estimates of land values in that part of Chinatown range from $30 to $60 a square foot.

“They’re looking for us to go away,” Sharon Lowe, a Chinatown attorney and member of Woo’s committee fumed, adding: “By no means is their offer of $110,000 going to buy them peace of mind.”

The community might now raise objections to Lippo’s commercial plans, she said, out of “concerns about the traffic impact, environmental impact, and whether the office tower conforms with the general design of the area.”