Raising Voices, Telling Stories

Miguel Angel Corzo,  at the $27 million facility at 501 N. Main St. 

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES- In April, Miguel Angel Corzo was front and center as president and CEO of the brand new $27 million LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes. Now, he's out of a job due to what board members described as "financial mismanagement."

The situation has prompted layoffs at the center, though officials say there is no danger to the future of the attraction.

As of this afternoon, Corzo's picture was still on the website for the Mexican American cultural center under a bio titled "El Jefe." However, he had stopped working at the institution at 501 N. Main St., across from the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, by the end of August, officials said.

In an email to Los Angeles Downtown News, Angie Castro, senior field deputy for First District County Supervisor Gloria Molina, said the LA Plaza board decided not to renew Corzo's contract. Molina, who spearheaded the project, sits on the 12-member board.

Miguel Santana, city administrative officer for Los Angeles and a LA Plaza board member, confirmed that Corzo's contract was not renewed due to financial mismanagement. However, because of possible litigation, he said he could not offer many details as to what exactly occurred. He said the board decision was unanimous.

Santana said that the board encountered a number of financial concerns dealing with overall management, accounting for expenditures and how operating funds were being handled. He said concerns were first raised after complaints came to Molina's office from vendors working on LA Plaza about getting late payments.

"At this point in time, because his contract was up for renewal, we decided we really needed someone who had the financial expertise to manage an organization like this," Santana said.

He said that while LA Plaza has been able to stabilize its financing, the situation resulted in layoffs at the facility, although he did not know exactly how many people lost their jobs.

"Once we uncovered where we were financially, like any organization, we had to make sure we were able to live within our means," Santana said. "Unfortunately, it did result in some layoffs."

He said the board members hope to build the staff back up to where it was within the next year.

Castro said that Terry Munoz will serve as interim chief operating officer. Munoz previously was LA Plaza's interim chief financial officer. Also brought in for the transition was former LACMA president and chief operating officer Melody Kanschat, although her new role is unclear. Castro said LA Plaza will continue its normal operations despite the change in leadership.

It is not the first time Corzo has left a high-profile Downtown Los Angeles institution. He became CEO of Grand Avenue's Colburn School in July 2007, only to decamp for LA Plaza about a year later. He has also served as director of the Getty Conservation Institute.

Corzo could not be reached for comment.

LA Plaza, which is part museum and part interactive school and community gathering place, opened amidst controversy after the discovery of Native American bones and artifacts during the construction; that led to heated opposition and demands that construction of the entire project be halted. While work on the courtyard where the bones were found stopped, the overall project moved forward.

The project was conceived and driven by Molina, who worked on it for nearly two decades, forming an advisory board, securing funds and creating a foundation to run it. The county is responsible for maintenance and operations.

"I was disappointed that we ran into this difficulty," Santana said. "I think we have a bright future. This is just going to be a blip in the history of an incredible facility for the county."

Contact Richard Guzman at richard@downtownnews.com.