Little Tokyo Galleria

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - It’s not easy to turn around a real estate disaster. But give credit to the investors who purchased the Little Tokyo Galleria five years ago. They’re trying.

That said, they could try a bit harder and smarter when it comes to the exterior of the building. Big jumps need to be accented by smaller changes.

Los Angeles Downtown News last week wrote about how the hulking gray facility at Third and Alameda streets is seeing some improvements. The biggest is X Lanes, a bowling alley/arcade/restaurant/bar that opened on the third floor of the building last month. It is easily one of Downtown’s most exciting nightlife additions of the past few years.

It’s hard to find an independent operation that is willing to make such a big investment. X Lanes cost $6 million, and the expense is apparent everywhere one looks. There are 24 bowling lanes and flashing LED lights. The place is filled with flat-screen TVs and has a massive sound system. The arcade holds about 100 machines. We hope the crowds materialize quickly.

It is not the only change for the 1985 mall. The former Mitsuwa Marketplace is now Woori Market, part of a Korean grocery chain. Similarly, an outpost of a Korean coffee business opened on the ground floor last year. A few restaurants have arrived and several others are planned. These complement veteran businesses such as Sushi Go 55 and cream puff purveyor Beard Papa’s.

All this marks a major turnaround for the 28-year-old mall, which has been through a succession of owners and names (it started as Yaohan Plaza). The seeds for an upgrade were planted in 2008 when a group of Korean-American investors, who keep their names out of the media, acquired the property. They promised a turnaround, which was necessary given the numerous empty storefronts. It was a dour place to visit.

The mall’s upgrade dovetails with other changes in Little Tokyo, and together they can help transform the neighborhood. The outdoor Japanese Village Plaza to the north has been renovated, with a battery of restaurants and some design improvements. In the past few years multiple housing complexes have opened. The divide between Little Tokyo and the Arts District has narrowed, particularly as the latter neighborhood has seen more businesses on its western edge around Third Street.

That is partly why the owners of the Little Tokyo Galleria should focus not only on adding businesses, but on freshening up the look of the outside of the building. While that is easy to say when it’s someone else’s money, the $300,000 the owners plan to spend on exterior improvements won’t go far given the boring gray walls.

The new owners should be willing to increase their exterior spending and should seek out suggestions from their neighbors. Maybe, as some Downtown News readers stated on our website, local artists could be hired to create murals on the walls of the mall. The property should look better than it does now, and why not take advantage of the local talent?

We applaud the work undertaken to date, and we eagerly await the future additions. Downtown is lucky that someone has taken a gamble on this fortress-like building. However, the outside needs just as much attention as the inside is getting.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2013