A new marketplace will soon open atop the Hollywood/Western subway station that is part food hall and part small business incubator.
Thai Town Marketplace, which is being built by the Thai Community Development Center, is set to open in late April on the ground floor of the Metro Hollywood apartments at 5448 Hollywood Boulevard. The 4,500-square-foot space will house 12 food vendors and 6 retail kiosks, with a focus on Thai cuisine and culture.
Architect Charles Cordero of CSC Architecture is designing the marketplace with inspiration from similar settings seen in Thailand. Visitors will be greeted by an open-air pavilion, known as a "Sala," leading into a space featuring information on Thai Town and cultural events throughout the community.
The marketplace is an outgrowth of Thai CDC’s existing small business program, according to Thai CDC Founder & Executive Director Chanchanit “Chancee” Martorell and Interim Program Director for Community Economic Development, Elson Trinidad. The organization has offered courses to prospective entrepreneurs on financial literacy and accessing capital since its founding in 1994, but its clients have been confronted with unexpected barriers to launching their own businesses – particularly the cost of renting retail space.
Planning for the marketplace began in 2006, when Martorell realized that a public market could offer an alternative to costly retail space, creating more opportunities for recent immigrants and low-income residents to launch their own enterprises. After studying public markets in Southern California, the Bay Area, and on the East Coast, Thai CDC began its search for a suitable site in East Hollywood.
Eventually, the retail space above the Hollywood/Western Metro station was determined to ideal. Located next to the entrance of a busy transit hub, as well as at the western gateway to Thai Town, the space seemed perfectly suited to serve as an anchor for economic development in the surrounding community.
"We want to ensure that when you have this kind of public infrastructure, where tax dollars are used to create it, it provides a public benefit to the people who live and work around there," said Martorell.
But securing the space was no easy feat. In addition to a multi-year negotiation period with Metro – which owns the land – and McCormick Baron Salzar – which built the apartment complex – the marketplace also required a change of use from a retail store to a food establishment
Securing financing for the project also proved challenging, says Martorell. Thai CDC obtained $4 million in total funding through grants, allocations in the City of Los Angeles' budget, and CRA/LA excess bond funds secured with the help of Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell, allowing for a buildout of the space by general contractor West Net.
When the marketplace opens, it will function as a fusion between a traditional food hall and a business incubator. The 18 businesses – which will employ an estimated 40 people – will cycle out every three years to make space for a new class of start-ups. During their tenancy, all of the business owners will receive one-on-one business counseling and technical assistance, giving them the skills necessary to continue operating independently of the marketplace at the end of their three-year tenancy.
The marketplace is intended to work in concert with an existing outdoor farmer’s market, which Thai CDC has been holding twice weekly at the property since 2012 - part of a campaign to provide fresh produce and address food insecurity in the surrounding neighborhood. Martorell hopes to eventually establish purchase agreements between the farmers and vendors within the marketplace.
The soft opening of Thai Town Marketplace will occur in concert with another milestone for the community: the 20th anniversary of Thai Town. Spanning six blocks of Hollywood Boulevard between Western and Normandie Avenues, it is the only officially-designated "Thai Town," in the United States, owing to the fact that Los Angeles is home to the largest concentration of persons of Thai descent in the country.
Thai CDC, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, provides a broad array of services, including legal assistance, education, business assistance, and affordable housing development.
- East Hollywood (Urbanize LA)