City of L.A. Seeking ‘Ideas’ to Revitalize Lincoln Heights Jail By Gloria Alvarez, Managing Editor

Hoping to breathe new life into a favorite canvass of taggers and graffiti vandals, city planners are reaching out to “potential development partners” to gauge their interest in the Lincoln Heights Jail, a city landmark located on a prime patch of land near the Los Angeles River. The city has issued a Request for Interest (RFI) seeking potential development partners and tenants with an interest in the revitalization and re-use of the 229,000 square-foot building located on the east bank of the L.A. River and Avenue 19, and within 5-10 minutes of six freeways.

Councilman Gil Cedillo represents the area and told EGP by email that he joins the “City family in asking the community – whether developers, architects, nonprofit organizations, consultants or other stakeholders – for the best and brightest ideas on the reuse of the property.”

He said the Jail “presents an amazing opportunity to revitalize the Lincoln Heights neighborhood which has seen new investments over the past few years,” going on to cite the Alta Lofts and L. A. Prep, a commercial food kitchen, as examples of positive changes taking place in the area.

“The Cornfields State Park is undergoing renovation, and several historic bridges spanning the river are being upgraded,” Cedillo pointed out.

Built in 1931, the Lincoln Heights Jail boasts an Art Deco design and in 1993 the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission designated the building as a City Historic-Cultural Monument (No. 587), giving it local “Landmark Status.”

The city stopped using the facility as a jail in 1965, eventually making it available to house nonprofit groups, including the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts (BFA) and Lincoln Height Boxing Gym.

But the years have not been kind to the facility and it has fallen into serious disrepair. Besides the graffiti, there is lead and asbestos and potentially other contaminants in the building and surrounding land.

In 2014 the city permanently closed the facility, requiring its last tenant, BFA, to move its bilingual theatre productions to another location.

The cost to bring the property up to code is likely to be in the tens of millions of dollars, according to a large commercial real estate broker with experience in these types of properties, who wants to remain unnamed because he has a client interested in the property.

The Jail’s location is likely to attract interest from multiple developers. Exactly what type of interest is what the city hopes to determine through the RFI process.

The goal is to generate conceptual ideas for city staff and elected officials to consider and come up with a range of “potential development opportunities for the site in the current economic and cultural environment, and to identify potential applicants for a future Request for Proposal (RFP),” states the RFI.

Cedillo spokesperson Conrado Terrazas said the city is taking a two-pronged approach to the Jail location, first identifying potential partners and their interest, at the same time city staff evaluate the site for potential structural and other issues. Then taking the ideas submitted to prepare a Request for Proposal to be released later this year.

Ideally, the city would like to come to an agreement for a long-term ground lease, but selling the property is not off the table.

Zoned Urban Innovation under the CASP, the site represents an opportunity to build technology, or creative office space. Live/work lofts, artists and performance spaces would also be allowed.

The RFI also notes the possibility for a school or museum, a hotel with meeting rooms and restaurants, or the type of adaptive re-use seen in the Helms Bakery District.

The city’s Sanitation Department is currently examining the possibility of building a 60,000 square-foot office building a block away on San Fernando Road and Humboldt.

The councilman is not set on a use for the property but is interested in seeing ideas for repurposing the Jail, Terrazas said.

Relatively isolated from homes, the property has become a frequent target of vandals who have covered the building inside and out with graffiti.

Terrazas said the council office has met with the General Services Department and asked them to step up security at the site. A fence has been put up around the rear exterior of the building and cameras installed, he said.

But the reality is the cameras get broken and the city fixes them over and over again, he told EGP.

Activating the space is likely to be the best deterrent. The deadline to submit a response to the RFI is 12 p.m. on May 13.

“Now is the time to do something positive with this City asset, and I look forward to working with the community to define a vibrant future vision,” Cedillo said.

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