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Metro May OK Subway Stop More to LACMA’s Liking

By Josh Premako, 4/26/2012

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In a last-minute change of plans, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) board may today approve a Purple Line subway station more in line with the wishes of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) than the site recommended as ideal by Metro engineers.

Ken Hixon, a member of the Miracle Mile Residential Association, recommends building a station next to the former Johnie’s Coffee Shop. photo by Josh Premako

The Metro board is scheduled to meet today and potentially approve building a subway station entrance at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Orange Grove Avenue, across the street from LACMA.

Until a committee meeting a week ago, the location recommended in the project’s environmental impact report was adjacent to the former Johnie’s Coffee Shop at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax Avenue. According to the EIR, that site was considered the best location, given its close access to nearby bus stops.

LACMA officials pushed for the Orange Grove site based on projected increases in museum visitors arriving via public transit.

The change in recommendation was made at an April 18 Planning and Programming Committee meeting. Metro spokespersons Dave Sotero and Jody Litvak said LACMA officials presented information suggesting museum visitor numbers were higher than Metro originally thought.

A PowerPoint presentation from the meeting shows that LACMA would raise funds to build a second station entrance, on the north side of Wilshire between the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the former May Co. building at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax. Sotero and Litvak said a second station entrance would be good news for transit customers.

While LACMA’s board of trustees has yet to take up the subject, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 3rd District, a Metro board member, said museum President Michael Govan told him he is committed to the additional station entrance.

A cost analysis will need to be done, and Yaroslavsky said he believes it will be within LACMA’s capabilities to raise the money needed for construction.

If the museum could not raise the money, he said Metro would have the option of going back to the originally recommended location next to the Johnie’s Coffee Shop building.

“We will not build a station (entrance) on the north side (of Wilshire) unless the museum pays for it,” Yaroslavsky said.

LACMA spokeswoman Miranda Carroll said by 2035, the museum expects 20 percent of its visitors to arrive via mass transit. She said that projection was achieved by looking at growth in the number of visitors over the last several years, from roughly 600,000 people annually five years ago to current figures of more than 1 million visitors per year.

“It’s the right place,” she said of the Wilshire/Orange Grove site. “It serves the most people (and) it would help visitorship.”

In an April 19 letter to Metro project director David Mieger, Michelle Uzeta, legal director for the Disability Rights Legal Center, urged Metro not to approve the possible site at Orange Grove and Wilshire.

“LACMA’s proposal will force seniors and people with disabilities to navigate a longer path of travel to connect to other transit stops,” Uzeta wrote. “LACMA’s counsel has offensively dismissed this accessibility issue as ‘counting footsteps,’ but it is of real concern.”

Asked if litigation is a possibility, she said Tuesday that her organization is still looking into the situation.

“We haven’t ruled anything out yet,” she said. “We’re just really disappointed. It seems like profit over people these days.”

If the Metro board does choose the south Wilshire location favored by LACMA, it would do so at the cost of razing buildings presently home to three small galleries: Edward Cella Art + Architecture, the A+D architecture museum and the Steve Turner Contemporary gallery.

Metro officials have said the transit authority would likely purchase the property, raze the buildings to make way for a construction staging area and potentially sell or lease the land once the subway station is finished. LACMA currently owns an employee parking lot on the site.

Tibbie Dunbar, executive director of A+D, said her gallery has enjoyed good relations with LACMA, and that the possibility of losing A+D’s location is a shame. The gallery opened in its current space two years ago, having moved from a location farther east on Wilshire. She said the roughly $300,000 buildout of the current site — on the ground floor of a building dating to the late 1940s — was made possible through a network of supporters and building-community donations.

“There’s really nothing like us in the region. I’m hard-pressed to find something like us in the country,” she said. Gesturing to Wilshire Boulevard and LACMA, she added, “And how can you beat this?”

If the Metro board gives final approval today, the next steps will be for Metro to file required public notices and obtain a final sign-off on the EIR from the Federal Transit Administration, Litvak added.

The news that LACMA’s preferred site was the new recommendation was unsurprising to Ken Hixon, a member of the Miracle Mile Residential Association board.

“At times like this, I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies: ‘Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown,’” he said. “LACMA clearly won’t let Metro, the EIR, the Mid-City West Community Council, the residents of the Miracle Mile or the needs of the elderly and the disabled stand in the way of their real-estate investment.”

The Metro board meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. in the boardroom on the third floor of One Gateway Plaza, located adjacent to Union Station.

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