Citing mixed messages, conflicting instructions, and other inconsistencies, the Little Tokyo Business Association (LTBA) has asked that the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) restart its selection process before awarding the Regional Connector’s Little Tokyo/Arts District station construction contract.

Station development rendering by Innovative Housing Opportunities (IHO).

Metro narrowed the field of prospective bidders down to four finalists — Innovative Housing Opportunities (IHO), Centre Urban Real Estate Partners, Kaji & Associates, and Little Tokyo Service Center — and recently revealed Santa Ana-based affordable housing developer IHO as its selectee to design and build the new station at First Street and Central Avenue/Alameda Street.

“We have nothing against IHO. This is not about IHO, their qualifications or the qualifications of any of the other proposers. We are concerned that Metro appears to have failed to adhere to its own policies and guidelines during the selection process,” said Mike Okamoto, LTBA president.

“This is a defining moment in our community’s existence. The station is destined to become a downtown landmark and a permanent gateway. There should be no doubt that the selection process was uniformly followed and was completely fair.”

Comments reportedly made by Metro staffers during the evaluation stage, like “housing will not work” or telling a Japanese American developer that his ties to the Japanese community were “too long ago,” raise questions among a growing number of Little Tokyo stakeholders.

LTBA asks: Did the parameters change? Were the bidders deliberately misled? Was Metro secretly trying to avoid working with Little Tokyo entities?

In a letter dated April 30 to Metro Chief Executive Officer Phillip Washington, LTBA cited areas of concern, including the challenges inherent in the station’s existing underground infrastructure. To date, LTBA has received no response.

“The Regional Connector is a major component of L.A.’s public transit system, and the Little Tokyo/Arts District station is destined to become an important landmark and gateway,” Okamoto added in asking that the selection process be re-administered with stricter controls.

“For nearly five years, Little Tokyo has lived with the stress and inconvenience of Metro construction in a spirit of mutual cooperation. To ignore our concerns now is insulting.”

Completion of the 1.9-mile Regional Connector extension will serve the Civic Center, Historic Core, Broadway, Grand Avenue, Bunker Hill, Flower Street, and the Financial District and will provide a one-seat ride for travel across Los Angeles County from Azusa to Long Beach and from East L.A. to Santa Monica.

LTBA, established in 1959, manages the merchant-based Little Tokyo Business Improvement District serving over 400 stakeholder businesses.

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