Shaul Kuba of CIM Group remaking West Adams

Developer says he’s “merchandising” inner-city neighborhood, others say see hipster bait for gentrification

CIM Group's Shaul Kuba (Getty, START Los Angeles)
CIM Group's Shaul Kuba (Getty, START Los Angeles)

A Mid-Wilshire real estate firm is rebuilding the inner city neighborhood of West Adams – but not to everyone’s approval.

Shaul Kuba, a co-founder of CIM Group, is remaking the scrappy Los Angeles neighborhood to his vision, Bloomberg reported. But while he says he’s “merchandising” West Adams after decades of decay, others see it as neighborhood flipping – or gentrification.

CIM is now developing 40 properties in West Adams – at once. That includes construction of 15 new buildings, two to six stories high, with glass storefronts at street level and as many as 170 apartments above. Another CIM mixed-use project calls for 74 units.

Other CIM projects on West Adams are hipster bait, according to Bloomberg—industrial spaces reconfigured to lure affluent tech and entertainment professionals to a neighborhood once occupied by auto mechanics, upholsterers, and pipefitters.

West Adams now has its own Szechuan noodle joint, a vinyl record shop, and a $200-a-night boutique hotel. White millennials walk their labradoodles at night along stretches of streetscape where shootings were once routine.

CIM Group is testing the notion that a single developer can turn around a chronically underfunded inner-city neighborhood – block by block, in the tight, 10-year time frame of a real estate investment fund.

Some critics charge that the West Adams redevelopment is displacing many of the Black and Latino families and entrepreneurs who gave the boulevard the distinctive character. And, while CIM’s acquisitions have made some longtime residents rich, others resisting Kuba’s vision, have paid a price.

“This is a community that doesn’t want to be erased, or lost, in this other vision of LA,” says Miguel Santana, a West Adams resident who served as LA’s chief administrative officer from 2009 to 2017 and now heads the Weingart Foundation, a philanthropy focused on social justice.

CIM owns several storefront properties in the area, including a duplex that Kuba renovated into a pasta restaurant called Cento.

Wallace Rowles Jr., a 74-year-old disabled veteran, used to live on the second floor. CIM paid him $9,000 to move. “They said if I didn’t take it, they’d evict me,” he says. “That money was gone in no time.”

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Rowles now splits his weeks sleeping in his car and at a single-room-occupancy hotel.

Kuba started buying properties in West Adams in 2007, not with a specific strategy in mind, he says, but with a feeling that prices were cheap, the location dead-center in LA, and the “bones” good.

For Kuba, West Adams is a place he admires but is actively remaking for a higher-paying clientele.

“The reuse of some of these buildings makes it very romantic and sexy,” he says. “People just want to be part of it.”

But some Black and Brown residents, who claim to have been bullied by what they say are CIM strongarm tactics and city nuisance abatement lawsuits to seize their properties, are pushing back.

In 2017, Kuba invited Abdul Jamal Sheriff, who owns Holiday Liquor Market, to a meeting at CIM’s Wilshire Boulevard offices. He offered Sheriff $2.6 million for his store and an adjoining duplex. But Sheriff said he wasn’t ready to sell.

“That’s when everything blew up,” he says.

Kuba exploded and called him “a piece of s–t” and said CIM was just trying to help him because “nobody” wanted him on West Adams anymore, Sheriff testified in a 2019 court deposition.

“I remember looking around Shaul’s conference room thinking I have no chance, I’m a Black guy with three White folks. No one will stand up for me,” Sheriff says. “I told myself, you came here with dignity, you need to walk out of here with dignity.”

[Bloomberg] – Dana Bartholomew

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