A groundbreaking ceremony was held Monday for the first phase of the $1 billion redevelopment of the Jordan Downs public housing project in Watts.
The plan seeks to convert the 700-unit site into a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood of 1,410 units with 160,000 square feet retail space, nine acres of green space and a new recreation center.
The plan has been in the works for nearly a decade and was delayed due to funding shortages and the discovery that soil at part of the site was contaminated with lead and other toxins from its past use as a steel factory.
"We've got a housing crisis and we need to build more units, and that starts right here, right now, today,'' Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
About the soil contamination, Garcetti said the city wants to ensure everything is remediated before people move in.
The property owners have paid over $30 million toward that effort and said the city won't put people in new homes will old contaminated dirt, Garcetti said.
The "phase 1A" of the project will include 115 rental apartments in 12 buildings on 3.15 acres.
"Our experience with large-scale public housing revitalization demonstrates how we can enrich the fabric of communities, make wise use of land and pair stable homes with the services people need to thrive and grow," said Kimberly McKay, executive vice President for BRIDGE Housing, one of the developers of the project.
A "demolition" ceremony at Jordan Downs was held last year that featured people taking sledge hammers to some of the buildings, which were built in the 1940s for World War II workers and converted into public housing in the 1950s.
Over the decades, Jordan Downs gained a notorious reputation as one of the most dangerous and crime-ridden areas of the city, as it was one of the flashpoints of the Watts riots in 1965 and also the location of violent gang warfare in the 1980s and early 90s.
"It is truly an honor to be part of such a significant — and long overdue — project for the city of LA," said Ernesto M. Vasquez, CEO of SVA Architects, one of the designers of the project. "Where deterioration and devastation once reigned, a thriving and sustainable community will emerge."