Last year, multiple developers pitched plans for a Metro-owned property located above the underground construction project at First Street and Central Avenue/Alameda Street in Little Tokyo. After selecting a developer for the project, Metro is being questioned about its selection process by the Little Tokyo Business Association (LTBA).
The association requested that Metro restart the process before awarding the Regional Connector’s construction contract due to failure to adhere to its own policies and guidelines. LTBA manages the merchant-based Little Tokyo Business Improvement District (LTBID), which serves over 400 stakeholder businesses.
“We learned from the people who weren’t chosen that they had all received different and inconsistent information about the guidelines from Metro staffers,” said Ellen Endo, co-chairwoman of LTBID. “One developer was told that their connections to the Japanese community were dated, while another was told that housing wouldn’t work. This led us to question the selection process, and we want to have a better idea of how they reached their decision.”
Out of four finalists, Metro selected Innovative Housing Opportunities (IHO), a Santa Ana-based affordable housing developer, to design and build the new station at First Street and Central Avenue/Alameda Street. The other finalists included Centre Urban, Ekibashi and Little Tokyo Service Center. Prospective bidder’s plans were based on community feedback on what residents would like to see, including community open space, shops, parking and restaurants. LTBA President Mike Okamoto has stated that the request for Metro to restart its selection process has nothing to do with IHO or its qualifications.
“Our goal is to get some clarity and an explanation of why there are conflicting accounts over the process,” Endo said. “It’s not that we have objections to who they chose. We just feel really misled, whether it was intentional or not.”
After multiple community visioning meetings and community surveys, Metro published the Little Tokyo/Arts District Station Joint Development Opportunity Overview in August 2018. The 25-page document outlined the project, regulatory and policy framework, and community input.
LTBA sent letters to Metro CEO Phillip Washington, various board members, as well as the mayor’s transportation deputy. In the letters it addressed numerous concerns, including the confusion about the scoring criteria and the challenges inherent in the station’s existing underground infrastructure. As of now, LTBA is awaiting a response from Metro.
“Our president, Michael Okamoto, put it best when he said that this is a defining moment for us,” Endo said. “We want Metro to understand that this isn’t just another construction project. It’s something we’ll have to live with for a long time. Whatever is put there will be identified as a landmark in Little Tokyo. We want it to be something that is compatible visually, artistically and practically with our community. We want them to get what they want, but we also need to get what we want.”