The village attracts massive crowds on weekends, but not during the week. Community leaders are looking to increase foot traffic and business on a daily basis.
By Jason Lewis
Leimert Park Village attracts thousands of people on many weekends throughout the year, as many people come to the area to celebrate African American culture, music, and art.
There are several special events that celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, International Jazz Appreciation Month, Juneteenth, and the Fourth of July. Festivals include the Unity Festival, the Vision Theater Festival, and the Kwanzaa Festival. The Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, The World Stage, the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center and the KAOS Network hold musical events throughout the year. And there is an art walk on the final Sunday of each month.
The Leimert Park Village comes alive during these events. While masses of people come to celebrate, many local business owners and vendors are able to sell their goods as black dollars are being recycled. These events are great for the community, but the issue is that this type of business is not generated on a daily basis.
“I appreciate festivals for what they are, but I also understand exactly what they are,” said James Burks, director of the Vision Theater. “They are temporary projects. But in-between there is nothing for that small merchant to do.”
During festivals and special events, Degnan Blvd. is typically closed off to vehicles, and temporary booths that vendors rent are placed in the middle of the street. Large crowds line the streets of Degnan Blvd. and 43rd Pl. But during normal business hours on a typical weekday, the village is pretty quiet. One major issue for the permanent business owners is that there is not much foot traffic when special events are not taking place. The problem has caused some businesses to close, leaving some units vacant.
One idea that Burks has discussed with local business owners, the Leimert Park/Crenshaw Corridor stakeholders group, and City Council President Herb Wesson, is closing off a portion of Degnan Blvd., south of the alley, and closing off 43rd Pl. between Crenshaw Blvd. and Degnan Blvd. Currently, 43rd Pl. between Degnan Blvd. and Leimert Blvd., in front of the Vision Theater, is already closed off to vehicles.
If this idea comes to fruition, permanent kiosks will be installed where the street is open only to foot traffic. The village would become somewhat like Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, which is packed with foot traffic on a daily basis throughout the year. Burks said that a business incubator program may be created to assist local merchants grow their businesses.
“There is an opportunity to increase the business, and by increasing the businesses, we’re increasing the longevity of the black community,” Burks said. “People need a place to be able to sell.”
With the hotel being built at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, which is within walking distance of Leimert Park Village, Burks sees a huge opportunity to generate money off of tourism.
“For years I’ve always said that we have not taken advantage of the African-American economic impact on domestic tourism,” he said. “A hotel is one of those institutions that is in the center of tourism. It’s also in the center of African-American dollars. Because every black special interest group, every high school, every junior high school, are always using hotels.
“So now when meeting planners plan their conventions, and they’re looking at Los Angeles, they don’t have to go to Third Street Promenade, they don’t have to go to the Grove, they don’t have to go to Disneyland, Pasadena, or Long Beach. They can come to Leimert Park. They can come to Baldwin Hills Crenshaw.”
There are many festivals that celebrate African-American culture throughout the year that take place around the nation. With a local hotel, black travelers who attend events such as The Essence Festival in New Orleans can look at South Los Angeles as a travel destination.
Burks said that many of the local business owners and community organizations are on board with the idea, which is very important.
“We now have a relationship that everybody has bought in to that we’re working together here, from the festivals to the bricks-and-mortars in Leimert Park,” he said. “That’s important, because if (we don’t work together), then we’ll allow (other) people to control Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills. Which means a change in the (African American) culture that has existed here for the last 40 to 50 years.”
Locals working together will also help attract more people to come to the area.
“It’s going to be marketed collectively,” Burks said. “Now we can go to the L.A. Tourism & Convention Board, and market Leimert Park, and Baldwin Hills Crenshaw as a destination for tourists. Now when tourists come here, they can go to the gift shop in Leimert Park. They can go to the information booth and get information about the black experience in Los Angeles.”
This idea would also include structural upgrades to Degnan Blvd. and 43rd Pl.
“It’s going to change the physical appearance of Leimert Park Village,” Burks said. “The streets will be landscaped, lighting conditions will be upgraded, and the facades on the buildings will be upgraded to fit the Afrocentric motif that we’re trying to sell.”
Locals can show their support and voice their opinions about this idea by attending the Leimert Park/Crenshaw Corridor Stakeholders meeting on the first and third Monday of each month, held at the Vision Theater at 10 a.m. The theater is located at 3341 W. 43rd Pl. Contact them at (323) 290-2386.
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