Plans for Latino cultural center make progress, though building it could be expensive

The future Long Beach Latino Cultural Center continues to move its way through a community visioning process with consultants revealing a business plan for the center, and the projected $30 million cost to the City Council Tuesday night.

The process to develop the concept El Mercado de Long Beach (“The Market of Long Beach”) began last year with prominent Latino leaders serving on a committee and Centro CHA, a non-profit that serves the Latino community in Long Beach holding outreach meetings to see what the community desired in a center.

Some of the top community suggestions to date include workforce development and services dedicated to business and entrepreneur development. Megan Anaya, an analyst with Centro CHA, said the community also wants to see their history represented with exhibits at the future center.

“Our community really is seeking acceptance and connection to their roots here,” Anaya said.

The Latino population has not always been as large as it is but the city has seen the ethnic group’s population swell from the single digits just a few decades ago to nearly 43% of the city’s population, according to the most recent Census data.

Ron Arias, the city’s former health director who recently had a community center in North Long Beach named after him, said that building a cultural center like this has been in the works for decades and it could do a lot to unify the city.

“This is a great project and it could bring us together,” Arias said. “It allows us to celebrate who we are and ultimately we are more alike than we are different.”

While a space for the Mercado has not been selected, there is a push from community organizations to find one near the city’s Downtown area where there are large concentrations of Latinos living in poverty. 
Centro CHA and others have hinted that they would like to see the center incorporated into the master plan for Drake and Cesar Chavez Parks.

The cultural center would not only serve as an economic development area but also a place where basic needs like job opportunities, access to health services and culturally specific retail shops could be located, according to the presentation.

But building it won’t be cheap.

Javier Jimenez, the director of organization and strategy at Lord Cultural Resources, who is helping develop the vision for the center, said that a new build out could cost as much as $30 million.

Jimenez said that the projected 21,000 square-foot center would include outdoor performance areas, an exhibition space, education and meditation areas as well as offices for the 18 people that could end up staffing it.

Construction costs could range from $12 million to $14 million, and soft costs like architecture permits and inspections could add another $5 million to $6 million, with about $10 million potentially required to establish an endowment to fund operations, Jimenez said during Tuesday’s presentation.

Refurbishing an existing building would be cheaper, but not by much. Jimenez said doing so would cost about $27 million.

Jimenez estimated that the center would need $1.3 million annually to break even. By year five, Jimenez projected that it could have an operating budget of about $1.6 million, but that would only cover about 23% of the operating costs. The rest would have to be covered by grants, government contributions, corporate sponsorships or endowments.

The next step for the Mercado is a feasibly study that could identify potential funding sources for the construction of the project and narrow down possible sites where it could be built.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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