The years hadn’t been kind to the mall. The movie theater, no longer owned by Magic Johnson, lacked the modern amenities moviegoers seek, such as stadium seating and the ability to show 3-D films. The shopping center itself, now a third-tier “C-levelâ€ mall, had been offered to the market for more than 30 days when the Capri team submitted its nearly $136 million bid. By the time of the brunch meeting, Capri was on the short list and one of three or four finalists for the mall. Still, the owners wanted to make sure Primo and Capri were the right fit to restore the mall to its former glory.
In his pitch to the owners, Primo recommended that they sell Capri the mall not only because Capri would be the highest bidder, but that as a minority-owned firm, management understood the local market. “We felt that this would be a major win for the community, again moving from the mall being managed as an island into the mall being an integral part of the broader community,â€ says Primo.
A Little Help From a Friend
Capri acquired the property, but still had to win over a skeptical local community who heard empty promises of revitalization from previous owners and now bypassed the shopping center in favor of spending their money in nearby Culver City or El Segundo. Meetings were held with residents, local officials, and community leaders. “We invited people from all rungs in the community to come to the mall and tell us what they wanted us to do,â€ says Primo. “What types of tenant mix did they want to see? What types of stores did they want us to seek?â€ But other developers had made promises before. The community wasn’t easily won over.
To that end, one of the first tenants Capri signed was the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. Primo, a friend of the award-winning actress/dancer/choreographer, learned the studio was in need of a new home. “He knew I was having a struggle. I was in a place where I couldn’t afford the rent and I was determined to keep going,â€ says Allen. Primo and Allen worked out a deal whereby the dance studio would relocate to an 8,454-square-foot former restaurant at the shopping center and sign a long-term lease paying less for rent than at their previous location.
Allen’s presence and the studio’s outreach into the community helped solidify relations with the locals. “We do a lot here in the community. We have a ‘free dance day’ a couple of times a year,â€ says Allen, a tenant at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza for three years now. “We have performances and we raise money to help kids get here. It’s just been a great situation all around.â€
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