After a long year in which it squabbled with the city over the rights to its iconic sign, VIP Records and its famous whistler sign was officially recognized as a historic landmark after the Long Beach City Council adopted an ordinance certifying it as one Tuesday night.
The sign had been the focus of a struggle between VIP owner and operator, Kelvin Anderson, and the city since he announced he was closing his shop that had been a part of the Central Long Beach community for four decades. The record store not only sold music to generations of hip hop fans but also helped foster the young careers of now infamous rap legends like Snoop Dogg, Warren G and others.
A process marked by online petitions to block it becoming a historic landmark, numerous conversations with the city to designate the sign historic and ultimately an agreement with the city to help finance the refurbishment and relocation of the sign did not end with Tuesday night’s vote, it merely made it official.
Now the group will continue its work to find a permanent home for the sign that was removed earlier this year from atop the location of the original VIP store located at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
Shirin Senegal, president of VIP Records, said that while she is grateful for the sign receiving the status and to the people within the city that worked tirelessly to reach an agreement with her team, there is still work to be done to ensure that Anderson and his historic sign are treated with the respect they deserve.
“We’re glad it has become a historic landmark but the city has not held its commitment for helping us find a home for the sign,” Senegal said. “I’m concerned about our brand and the loss it will take if we can’t bring it back.”
The sign had topped the building at the corner of PCH and MLK for 40 years even though Anderson’s business eventually relocated from its original location to a smaller shop within the same shopping center as he sought a lower monthly rent. Last year, the original VIP location became a 7/11 convenience store and the process leading up to that is where things get a little murky.
Senegal said the city pledged to help VIP secure a permanent site for the sign. While the group would have ideally liked to have stayed at the corner where the history of Long Beach hip-hop was built, a mutual agreement was reached by the city and VIP to pursue a city-owned property near the original store.
She claims that the city attorney’s office incorrectly advised city staff and Mayor Robert Garcia that the city could not enter into an exclusive negotiation with VIP for the property and that they would have to go through the normal bid process.
“After meeting with developers and consultants I found out that many properties had been awarded without going to bid,” Senegal said. “We had a historic property, we should not have been thrown to the wolves and made to bid against other developers.”
In the past the city has offered discounted rates to developers for projects being developed in the downtown area and for the company that took over the lease of the Queen Mary but Senegal said making VIP go through the bid process has essentially priced them out of a property that she felt the city could have made easier for the group to acquire.
Long Beach Director of Economic and Property Development, John Keisler, who was part of the talks with VIP, said that of the over 260 city-owned properties that fell under the now-defunct redevelopment agency (RDA), only one instance involved a property being acquired without a bid process.
That example was the $7 million sale of over 50 parcels of land to Lab Holding, LLC in North Long Beach in August 2016. In that deal, the city dropped the price of the sale by $1.1 million before approving the deal. Other deals like those with the Queen Mary, Aquarium of the Pacific and even the city’s ranchos involve some sort of city ownership stake.
With all RDA sales, Keisler said the city keeps only 21 percent of the proceeds as it must pay the remaining 79 percent of the fair market value into the Long Beach Unified School District and to Los Angeles County. If any RDA property were sold for under fair market value the city would still be liable for making the 79 percent payments to the school district and the county.
Keisler said that VIP’s original request to the city was for the city to work with VIP to develop the land at the northwest corner of MLK and PCH, where it intended to develop a hip-hop museum, which included a plan to purchase the property through the help of fundraising.
Other bidders including a housing developer and retail developer were interested in the property and the city attorney advised that the best way to establish fair market value was through a bid process, rather than an exclusive negotiation with a single party.
Keisler stated that the $80,000 designated in the agreement with VIP was to assist with five areas including the removal, refurbishment and eventual relocation of the sign but that all parties knew that was never going to be enough.
“Some progress has already been made but it was clear from the agreement and up front that both sides acknowledged that the cost of the restoration of the sign would be much higher and VIP would need help raising funds and we’re hoping the community will help us out,” Keisler said.
While the agreement stated that a mutually acceptable permanent site should be located within the next two years, Keisler said that it did not specify a location or financial terms for a future property. But he said the city’s well on their way to fulfilling the five items approved by the council, including finding a home for the sign.
“It’s going to be our job to come up with some options together that will work and ultimately the council will approve and defend as consistent with their practice,” Keisler said. “There’s all kinds of different ways that over the years the city and council has worked with entities.”
Wearing a shirt that read #Equity, Senegal spoke to the council Tuesday night asking it to cut through the politics and to help find a home for the sign, which the group plans to anchor the only operating hip-hop museum in the country once it opens its planned community center in the coming months.
“If you want to talk about inequity let’s talk about a business that has been here for 40 years and we have to go to petitions and to media to get a meeting with the council or with the mayor,” Senegal said. “Help us secure our history at the place that it was built.”
[Editors note: A previous version of this story stated that VIP had originally asked for the land at PCH and MLK to be granted to it. Director of Economic and Property Development John Keisler later clarified those remarks to add that VIP had submitted a plan to pay for the property when it requested it.]
Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz__LB on Twitter.
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