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Is MTA having second thoughts on Boyle Heights development?

Mariachi Plaza's
Mariachi Plaza's "kiosko," with the historic Boyle Hotel in the background. A proposal to develop retail and medical office space at the plaza has drawn controversy.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

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On Thursday, county Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials will seek public input on three developments in Boyle Heights. One that’s drawing controversy is at Mariachi Plaza, the iconic gathering place at First and Boyle.
The proposal recommends building roughly 120,000 square feet of retail and medical office space surrounding the plaza, named for the musicians who have gathered there for decades.

MTA officials say their goal is to increase ridership by building amenities like housing and retail near the tracks. But unlike two planned development at nearby stations, this one isn't getting as much community support.

The two other Boyle Heights site plans involve affordable housing. This one doesn't. The proposal also calls for tearing down an existing structure that houses several small merchants.
“If we have to move, what is going to happen to us?," said Minerva Villa, who with her husband owns a snack and ice cream shop on the plaza. "I’m concerned about that.”

This and other businesses sit on a private parcel adjacent to the MTA property that would also be part of the development. Tenants worry they would not be able to afford higher rents.

But MTA officials say it may not come to that . There is no development contract yet, and enough community input could sway them to rework what's being proposed.
"Generally there has not been much support for Mariachi Plaza. We might start over from scratch," said MTA development officer Jenna Hornstock.

She said the agency has been trying to gather community input since the proposal was announced in the fall. Results are to be presented to the MTA board next month.

The plaza's history - and its name - date back to when there was little there save for the 1889 Boyle Hotel, once a popular crash pad for immigrant musicians. The mariachis often waited outside a small donut shop, hoping to be hired for gigs.

But the area has seen its share of changes and development in recent years. A Metro Gold Line station nearby opened in 2009. Then the Boyle Hotel was renovated, partly as affordable housing - although musicians say it's not affordable enough. New businesses have sprung up around the plaza, and downtown development to the west has added to fear of creeping gentrification.

The Metro community meeting takes place Thursday, Jan. 22 between 6:30-8:00 p.m. at the Puente Learning Center, 501 S. Boyle Avenue, Los Angeles.