The South Pasadena Unified School District parking lot – frequently home to filming production trucks and once considered for a mixed housing development – is back on the school board’s agenda.
About 10 years ago, the Board of Education took up an initiative to develop a long-term lease for the local school district aimed at creating an on-going revenue source.
At the same time the City of South Pasadena looked to the district to develop the property – calling the long gap along Mission Street the ‘missing tooth’ – as the Mission Street Specific Plan was targeted by city officials as a means of increasing business in the area.
Recognizing the city’s interest in filling the gap between Diamond and Fairview avenues where the school district’s parking lot currently exists, the Board of Education, under Superintendent Joel Shapiro’s leadership, began exploring possibilities.
The school board went through an extended process of community input, need finding, development of a request for proposal (RFP), and competitive proposal evaluation. The board ultimately selected and engaged in an exclusive negotiating agreement with a developer.
District officials worked solely with Legacy Partners, which hoped to construct “Mission Place” at the site after the exclusive negotiating agreement was reached.
“Our goal in developing this property was to ensure the financial health of the school district over a long term,” said Shapiro at the time. “We must look at every available means of revenue because we want to take care of the needs of our students and employees. We have to maximize our revenue.”
As the process evolved, the developer refined its plans and several public meetings offered the community an opportunity to share feedback. Ultimately, it was determined that this project was neither in the district’s nor the community’s best interest and the school board ended the process.
The district property, including the parking lot and an office building for district employees, came up among the Board of Education for discussion during a strategic planning session held last summer. “They discussed their interest in exploring the topic again,” said Yantz.
The superintendent explained there are four different ways a school district can manage its properties – maintain the property, sell, lease, or execute a land swap. A land swap is a process that allows a school district to trade its owned land with privately owned property.
Yantz was asked if land space is available for a swap in the city and, if so, just how fast could it happen? “It’s a long process,” he explained. “There are numerous steps involved and we are in the very early phase. The next step the Board of Education plans to undertake is simply to gain a deeper understanding of a land swap. If members continue to be interested, there will be a protracted period of exploration and public involvement.”
The Board will continue a discussion on the future of the property during its 6:30 p.m. regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 9 at district headquarters, 1020 El Centro St.
When the school district completed its facilities assessment prior to voters approving a $98 million bond measure in 2015-16, the district’s headquarters were part of the analysis. “At that time, the assessment showed there was over $6 million needed in improvements, to bring the building up to current standard,” explained Yantz. “The building itself needs a lot of work and deserves to be preserved as much as possible. And, as the City develops and implements its master plan, this piece of real estate has the potential to contribute to a vital downtown.
Nothing is going to happen overnight, insisted Yantz, explaining: “This is a process. It’s not an event. There’s still a long way to go as the board explores how to best serve its students, employees, neighbors and the community as a whole. Right now it’s just a topic of conversation.”