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Long-stalled Marlton Square project makes a move forward

Long-stalled Marlton Square project makes a move forward
Across from the Bethlehem Church of God, a fence borders most of a vacant lot slated for redevelopment as Marlton Square at Marlton Avenue and Santa Rosalia Drive in Los Angeles. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

For three decades, the redevelopment project known as Marlton Square in South Los Angeles had been ripe with promise but plagued by false starts, setbacks and financial woes.

"We saw this as a symbol of the neglect of an entire community and a city that turned its back right here on Crenshaw," Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

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On Tuesday, Garcetti and other officials spoke to dozens of residents to celebrate a small but significant step forward in transforming a large portion of the barren lot at Marlton Avenue and Santa Rosalia Drive into a new medical facility. Kaiser Permanente broke ground on a $90-million, 100,000-square-foot building and construction is expected to begin this month.

"This is a long time coming" said state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles).

In 1984, then-Mayor Tom Bradley identified 22-acre Marlton Square, formerly known as Santa Barbara Plaza, as a prime site for redevelopment. Millions of dollars in public funds were committed for improvements. Plans for a mixed-use complex of stores, restaurants and housing were approved by the City Council years ago. But work halted in January 2008 after the developer filed for bankruptcy.

In 2012, Kaiser bought 8.65 acres and announced plans for a Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw medical facility. It took several years to get the proper entitlements, said Howard Fullman, Kaiser's West L.A.-area medical doctor.

The facility, which is slated to open in spring 2017, is designed to serve as a community center anchored around healthy living. It will include a two-mile walking path, outdoor event space and conference room that will be available to the public, Fullman said.

"This is a wonderful community that has been underserved," he said.

The Kaiser project joins several other redevelopment efforts in the pipeline in the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw area. A $2-billion light rail line that will connect Crenshaw to the Los Angeles International Airport is slated to open in 2019. A new residential and retail village is planned around the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

"You will not recognize the Crenshaw corridor in the next five years," Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told the crowd.

Lifelong resident Stacy Hill-Williams, 50, said she hated driving past the barren lot where thriving businesses once stood.  Not only was it an eyesore but also a festering wound that symbolized city officials' contempt for the community, she said.

"This shows that elected officials are concerned," she said.  "This is a great step forward for Crenshaw."

For more California breaking news, follow @AngelJennings.  She can also be reached at angel.jennings@latimes.com.

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