The changing face of Figueroa

It’s hard not to miss the turquoise-clad officers riding bikes along Figueroa Street, or the signs promoting the Figueroa Corridor that dot lampposts around USC. But the Figueroa Corridor Partnership does a lot more for the community than students might realize.

The Figueroa Corridor is made up of the area surrounding campus. Kelvin Kuo | Daily Trojan

Established in 1998, the partnership — which includes the area between the Santa Monica (10) Freeway and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and Flower Street and Vermont Avenue — aims to stimulate economic growth and make the Corridor attractive to businesses.

According to Steve Gibson, executive director of the partnership, the goal of the non-profit group is to promote a positive environment for businesses and customers.

“We want to provide clean and safe services, which are the basics for providing an enjoyable Corridor,” Gibson said.

The partnership was started by former USC President Steven B. Sample and Darryl Holter, current chair of the partnership’s Board of Directors and the CEO of the Shammas Group, a business made up of several properties based south of Downtown. Both men were troubled by the Corridor’s conditions in 1998 — and understandably so.

“The local Chevrolet dealer was told by General Motors to relocate to a better neighborhood, area museums saw attendance drop significantly [and] the University of Southern California had trouble recruiting students,” the partnership’s website reads.

After the partnership formed, things turned around.

The Corridor has attracted more than $2.2 billion in investments since the partnership’s inception, much of which has come in the form of new housing complexes and businesses, as well as a multi-million-dollar restoration of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum completed in 2003.

“We have built new housing complexes such as University Gateway in order to stop profit-driven landowners from converting working-class properties into insufficient student housing,” Holter said.

The increase in investments has also had a positive effect on property owners, said Margret Farnum, retired chief administrative officer of the Coliseum Commission.

“Property owners have taken more pride in their buildings and have upgraded them, creating a new sense of life in the area,” Farnum said.

Small businesses such as the Vagabond Inn have also profited from the partnership, according to Charles Valentino, the inn’s director of operations.

“With the removal of graffiti and cleanliness of the sidewalks, you can now tell when you go in and out of the Corridor,” Valentino said.

Also monitoring the Corridor’s streets are safety ambassadors, who patrol the area on bikes.
David Roberts, USC’s associate director of local government relations, said these ambassadors have worked tirelessly to make the Corridor a crime-free area.

“[They] are watchful eyes on the streets,” he said.

Even business owners operating outside the boundaries of the Corridor said they appreciated having that extra set of eyes.

“The bike control is a great calming influence on the Figueroa area,” said Patsy Carter, proprietor of The Inn at 657 located just outside the Corridor at 657 W. 23rd St.

But the partnership hasn’t just been good for businesses. USC continues to be an integral part of the partnership and has benefitted greatly from the improved Corridor, Roberts said.

“The partnership has changed the perspective of folks visiting USC and Exposition Boulevard and improved the quality of life in the Corridor and the surrounding neighborhoods,” he said.

The partnership has an annual budget of approximately $1 million. Members pay extra taxes based on their assessed property value, which is returned to the partnership from the government — extra money they say is well spent.

“In my 42 years working for the Coliseum, I have never felt so safe walking around the Corridor,” Farnum said. “It feels almost like home.”