How a plan to create a much-needed park in Koreatown withered

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The people of Koreatown were on the brink of getting something urban planners and psychologists said Los Angeles' most densely packed neighborhood desperately needed: A public outdoor space for respite in a booming urban corridor increasingly smothered in concrete and glass. Now, five years later, a 346-unit luxury apartment building dubbed the Pearl on Wilshire is taking root where Koreatown Central Park was slated to go. It will have a dog wash, yoga room, putting green and spa, but not so much as a park bench for public use.

And as heavy equipment roars and beeps at the once-vacant lot at Wilshire and Hobart boulevards, people familiar with the abandoned project are left to wonder: Who's to blame for letting a park die in this neighborhood where residents have about one-hundredth of the park space as the average Angeleno citywide?

The state had, after all, already awarded $5 million to the project to transform part of the lot into an open public space, with a community garden, walking loop and splash pad for kids.

In 2011, the Community Redevelopment Agency agreed to use the state money and add additional dollars to buy half the lot for $9.9 million, in partnership with Don Hankey, a local investor who would develop the other half of the site into apartments with retail space.

"Christmas comes early for Koreatown residents," the real estate website Curbed LA wrote at the time.

A few weeks later, however, Gov. Jerry Brown dissolved community redevelopment agencies statewide, leaving it to cities to keep such projects on course.

Elsewhere in the city and state, civic leaders picked up where the CRA left off and moved forward on proposed parks.

Koreatown's park quietly fizzled.

Steve Rasmussen Cancian, a landscape architect who drew up the designs for the Koreatown park, notes that another CRA-funded park he worked on in a low-income neighborhood in Santa Rosa broke ground last year.

"The local leadership in Santa Rosa figured out a way to get from here to there," Cancian says.

In Koreatown, he says he was "disappointed in the abdication of political leadership."