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LA Council OKs huge South LA redevelopment plan

John Rogers, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The City Council on Monday unanimously approved a $1.1 billion proposal to overhaul an aging shopping center adjacent to the University of Southern California, bringing a hotel, movie theater, restaurants and other amenities to a modest but rapidly gentrifying section of Los Angeles.

USC, which owns the property, has promoted the plan for the Village at USC since 2009. During that time, university officials have met often with community leaders and others in an effort to win approval for what they believe is the largest proposed economic development in the history of the city's modest, blue-collar South Side.

Following Tuesday's vote, USC said it hopes to break ground sometime before the end of next year. The project is to be built in stages over at least the next 20 years.

Plans call for it to also include additional academic buildings and campus housing that can accommodate as many as 3,000 students.

"It's part of our overall master plan for enhancing the university as well as the neighborhood," Thom Sayles, USC's senior vice president for university relations, told The Associated Press earlier this year.

"We have believed for a long time that the futures of the community and the university are very much inextricable, and that's not just a saying, we really do believe that," said Sayles, who himself grew up in the modest, largely minority neighborhood that surrounds much of the university.

Although higher-end retailers have begun to come in in recent years, the area has continued to sometimes have problems.

The killings of two graduate students from China, who were shot to death in their car near the university earlier this year, made worldwide headlines and resulted in two people being charged with murder. Last month, a reputed gang member was charged with attempted murder after four people were wounded during a dispute at a campus Halloween party.

Tuesday's council vote allows USC to develop large parcels of university-owned land to the north and east of the campus, but the key development would go where the modest 1960s-era strip shopping center now stands just north of campus.

It would be replaced by the Village at USC, which officials say will contain 2 million square feet of retail, student housing, hotel and academic space.

As part of the development, the community would also gain a full-service grocery store and sit-down restaurants.

"Not only will the Village at USC profoundly enrich our University Park Campus, it will be a tremendous boon for our surrounding neighborhoods, and for all of Los Angeles," USC President C.L. Max Nikias said in a statement Tuesday.

USC said it expects the village will bring 8,000 permanent new jobs to the community, as well as 4,000 temporary ones. University officials say they plan to fill at least 30 percent of those jobs with local residents, with at least 10 percent of the workforce coming from members of disadvantaged groups.

The university is already the city's largest private employer, school officials say, with more than 30,000 on the payroll.