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Metro wants to try again to develop Boyle Heights' Mariachi Plaza

Mariachi Plaza's
Mariachi Plaza's "kiosko," with the historic Boyle Hotel in the background.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

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A year after Metro scrapped a plan to build retail and and office space at Boyle Heights' iconic Mariachi Plaza, talks are underway again to develop the Metro-owned land adjacent to the Mariachi Plaza Gold Line station.

Strong local opposition to the last plan, which called for a 120,000 square foot development with retail and medical offices, forced Metro officials to go back to the drawing board last year. This time, agency officials say they want the public to help decide what's developed.

"We're really starting from the ground up, basically, just a clean slate," said Vivian Rescalvo, Metro's project manager for the site. "We want to hear from the community what their goals are, what are their objectives, what they would like to see on the property. Our feeling is, anything goes."

People from the community will have an opportunity to weigh in on different options at a public meeting in Boyle Heights on Saturday, she said.

Some locals are still leery. They fear any project will bring large-scale gentrification to Boyle Heights, a neighborhood that's already in flux. Recent years have seen rising rents and an exodus of older businesses that couldn't keep up with increasing overhead as newer, hipper businesses moved in.

"If they’re going to build something new, I know the rent is going to be double or triple what we pay now," said Armando Salazar, who for 20 years has operated the Santa Cecilia restaurant on Mariachi Plaza.

Salazar's small eatery could have fared worse under Metro's last plan, which called for razing a building on the plaza that houses the restaurant and other businesses. Metro's Rescalvo said this privately-owned parcel of land won't be part of the new project.

Still, many fear that development could change the character of Mariachi Plaza, a Los Angeles landmark named for the musicians who have gathered there for decades waiting for gigs.

Long before there was a plaza with benches and cafe tables and the famous stone "kiosko" bandshell, musicians gathered outside a donut shop, fueling themselves with caffeine before they went out to perform. Those new to town crashed at the Boyle Hotel across the road, at the corner of Boyle Ave. and 1st Street.

Guitarist Arturo Ramirez is among those who've gathered at Mariachi Plaza for decades - he's been coming here since the 1980s. He fears the musicians could be displaced if the plaza changes completely.

"We’re not opposed to the future, to development – to the contrary," Ramirez said. "But the big question we ask ourselves is…will they let us stay here?"