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What can you buy for $1 anymore? Try a DTLA building

By Kylie Reynolds
Published: Tuesday, July 17, 2012, at 01:56PM
Senor Fish - Little Tokyo Courtesy of Señor Fish

The Señor Fish restaurant at the corner of First and Alameda streets in Little Tokyo will be displaced once Metro sells the building for $1.

A Little Tokyo building will soon be up for sale at the same price as a pack of gum or a soda at a fast food joint.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently put out a notice about the upcoming availability for purchase of the 416 East First St. building on the corner of First and Alameda streets in Little Tokyo.

The asking price? $1.

The building that houses Mexican restaurant Señor Fish will likely be acquired by Metro next summer in preparation for the Regional Connector project - a light rail that will connect the Metro Gold Line, Blue Line and Expo line and run from Montclair to Long Beach and from East Los Angeles to Santa Monica, according to Metro's website.

The Los Angeles Conservancy reached out to Metro once it was clear that construction on the underground rail at that location would affect the historic building, Dolores Roybal Saltarelli, a transportation planning manager at Metro, told Blogdowntown.

While the building is not on the national registry of historical buildings, the L.A. Conservancy felt it had local significance, Roybal Saltarelli said. The building, which has been in owner Richard Volk's family since the 1880s, once housed the notorious late night, punk rock hangout Atomic Cafe, Volk said.

Metro worked with the L.A. Conservancy to come up with a way that would lessen the project's impact on the building, Roybal Saltarelli said. Rather than tear down the building, Metro will sell it for $1 - with the catch that the buyer will need to foot the bill to remove the building and relocate it in its entirety.

It is a common move in national conservation efforts to offer a building for $1 in an effort to generate interest, Roybal Saltarelli said.

"Ultimately, if we could, we wouldn't be impacting the building at all," she said. "But we weren't able to deviate from physically needing to acquire the building."

For those still residing in the historic Little Tokyo location, however, the building's sale and relocation does not prove a strong enough compromise.

Enrique Ramirez, owner of Señor Fish, said he has spent time and money remodeling the restaurant and restoring its façade, and hoped to "reap the benefits" of his work.

And the investment he has put into the restaurant is ongoing. He even spent some time last week remodeling the space, he said.

"It's going to be difficult to find any [location] remotely close to [Little Tokyo]," Ramirez said. "The history, the character of the building - there's no way we are going to replicate this downtown."

He said there has been some talk about receiving relocation and compensation money from Metro once it acquires the building. Despite the trouble of finding a nearby space where the restaurant can relocate, he said he is going to try to stay in the area.

"We have a strong fan base in [Little Tokyo]," Ramirez said. "It would be a shame to lose that."

To sell the building, Metro must first acquire the location, which is contingent on the transportation authority receiving funding from the Federal Transit Administration, Roybal Saltarelli said. At the moment, Metro has no official funding to go forward with property acquistion, she said.

But it has already passed the first step in getting a financial committment. The Federal Transit Administration gave the project a Record of Decision early this month, which certifies that the $1.37 billion light rail meets federal environmental guidelines.

While waiting for funding, Metro wants to get the word out about the building to potential buyers, Roybal Saltarelli said. It has released the notice of availability on its website and in various local papers.

"Moving a building takes some coordination," Roybal Saltarelli said. "As soon as possible, we want to meet with interested parties."

Volk, who feels the building's move will be the "end of an era," said he does not know how the unreinforced brick building will be relocated.

"Anybody thinking of buying the building will find it expensive, if not impossible (to move)," he said.

Metro says it has yet to receive word from any potential buyers, but are hopeful the bids will start rolling in with time. It is asking interested buyers to send in proposals for the purchase and relocation of the building, and is hoping to have it off the Little Tokyo corner by July 5, 2013.


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