“Let’s building something together…”

Recap of Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund’s South Bay Kick Off

Source: Caroline Calderon

Over 40 Little Tokyo stakeholders filled the hall of the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute last Saturday, November 16, 2019 to discuss a new community development strategy  emerging from the Japanese American community: the Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund (LTCIF). 

The meeting began with a short film by Robert Shoji titled “Gone” which interrogates the question: “Will we stand by until Little Tokyo is GONE, or will we stand up and fight for the future of our community?” Familiar images and shots of Little Tokyo’s cultural institutions, small businesses and community spaces juxtaposed with cranes, “for lease” signs and closed storefronts. 

Shoji’s film set the tone of the event’s purpose: to evoke a call to action to protect Little Tokyo from the changing landscapes fueled by gentrification and rising rents that put long-time residents, small businesses and community spaces at-risk of displacement and cultural erasure.

With the Metro regional connector currently being built in Little Tokyo, there are concerns over rising rents and property values within the next two years. LTCIF is a community-driven real estate investment fund with the purpose to purchase and manage properties in Little Tokyo. The Fund as a social purpose corporation, is a new tool aimed to support heritage-based businesses and properties in Little Tokyo and will work alongside other anti-displacement strategies that are currently being used. The idea is to attain community control over properties in the area and provide below market rates to businesses, cultural institutions, spiritual centers, and other enterprises, consistent with the social purpose of the Fund.

Source: Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund

It has been over a year since LTCIF was first introduced to the South Bay community. When LTCIF President, Bill Watanabe, asked “Who came to last year’s meeting?” over half the room raised their hands. The Fund’s organizing committee worked with lawyer Brett Heeger to solidify the Fund’s purpose, structure and investment options. According to Watanabe, the Fund has grown significantly over the past months:

  • On July 30, 2019 the Commissioner of the California Department of Business Oversight officially recognized the Fund—allowing LTCIF as a social purpose corporation to sell two classes of shares directly to California residents: Class A which requires a purchase of $1,000 for one share and Class B which requires a minimum of purchase of $10,000 for two shares (with each share costing $5,000).
  • The Fund has until July 31, 2020 to reach a minimum subscription $500,000. LTCIF has more than 25 investors who have invested over $350,000 in shares. Once the Fund reaches $450,000, we have a commitment of a $50,000 from a prospective investor to help us reach the minimum.
  • LTCIF will be looking to investors to elect a Board in the upcoming months. Class A shareholders get ⅓ of the seats on the Board while class B investors get ⅔.
  • The Fund is researching sites in Little Tokyo that can be served through the Fund’s purpose. 

“You’re sitting here because I think you’re more interested not in the highest return but putting money to work that’s going to benefit the community, at the same time you’ll get something on your investment” shared Bill Watanabe.

Bill Watanabe presenting LTCIF’s structure, purpose and investment options (Source: Caroline Calderon)

LTCIF committee member, Casey Nishizu, introduced several scenarios of how the Fund can be used to purchase real estate in Little Tokyo. Graphics showing increases in market rents and vacancies reiterated the urgency to get community control of these properties in the neighborhood.

Source: Casey Nishizu

What is Little Tokyo?” a video by Steve Nagano closed the event program which reminded attendees how many families got their start in Little Tokyo. The neighborhood has also evolved into a place where visitors can learn about Japanese American history and culture, but also be patrons of unique small businesses, religious institutions, museums and community art spaces—all of which are worth preserving, especially for future generations.

An in-depth Q&A segment took place that dug deep into the Fund’s structure and investment options. Some of this discussion is captured on LTCIF’s FAQ page: http://littletokyocif.com/invest/faqs/

The Q&A also brought about a sharing of personal experiences and testimonies as to why it is important to take action. One attendee commented, “I grew up going to Chinatown…my parents used to buy groceries there. And now Chinatown has become this hipster destination. It has evolved into something I hardly recognize from my childhood…I admire the Japanese community for even conceiving doing something like this. I applaud this effort.”

Although this is a new tool to engage stakeholders to invest in the area, LTCIF investor Steve Nagano shared that the practice is actually very familiar: “the concept is not new to our community, the Tanomoshis, Keiro, Little Tokyo Towers, Gardeners’ Federation (and building) were all built by a cooperative effort, people contributing their part for the greater community. The difference today is the mechanism (an investment fund). As the Nisei generation pass and the Sansei age, I feel we have a duty, an obligation, to them to do our best to keep Little Tokyo.”

 “Let’s build something together greater than what I can do as an individual…there are many examples in our community of where we’ve pulled our money together to build something for the whole…” remarked Steve Nagano. Investors like Alan Nishio also shared the importance of preserving Little Tokyo in order to be a model for future generations: “This is what we’ve passed on to you…We expect you to carry it on.”

All attendees were given a Prospectus, the Offering Circular (or Memorandum) that details the Fund’s plan, structure, risks, and more. It also includes important eligibility requirements for each class of shares. One-on-one consultations and networking commenced after the Q&A. 
Prospective investors are invited to request an Offering Circular on LTCIF’s website: http://littletokyocif.com/invest or even request presentations for their respective community organizations and groups. The Fund also welcomes volunteers who can share their expertise on community outreach, marketing, finance and real estate. For more information, you can contact the Fund at info@littletokyocif.com.

Press Release: Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund Kick Off Meeting to be Held in South Bay on November 16th

For Immediate Release:                                            
November 5, 2019

Media Contacts:
Miya Iwataki 626-993-8142
Kevin Sanada 310-592-3403
Caroline Calderon 310-384-1683        

Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund Kick Off Meeting to be Held in South Bay on November 16th:
Meeting will introduce the fund and its mission to preserve Little Tokyo’s cultural identity

Los Angeles, CA  –  On Saturday, November 16th at 2:00 pm, the Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund (LTCIF) will hold a special Kick Off Meeting at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute (JCI), 1964 W. 162nd St. in Gardena to introduce the Fund to prospective investors in the South Bay, present updates on the Fund’s progress, and provide details about how to invest in the effort. The meeting will include an informational presentation followed by a question and answer session with current investors and LTCIF steering committee members. Payments and investor documents will be accepted at the event.

The LTCIF, a social purpose corporation, is a unique, community-driven investment opportunity that empowers individuals to own a stake in the future of Little Tokyo. Investors purchase shares in the Fund, which go directly toward acquiring property in Little Tokyo to preserve family-owned small businesses and community institutions. Approved by the Commissioner of the California Department of Business Oversight in July, the LTCIF has already attracted more than $300,000 in investments from community members throughout California.

“The progress we’ve made in just the last four months shows how many people care deeply about the future of Little Tokyo as a commercial, cultural, and spiritual center for Los Angeles,” noted Bill Watanabe, President of the LTCIF, “many South Bay families have strong ties to Little Tokyo, and we’re excited to share this important opportunity.”

The LTCIF was established as a direct response to rising real estate prices in the Downtown area. As development pressures in the area have grown, many memorable and historic businesses and institutions that once called Little Tokyo home have closed their doors. By purchasing, leasing, and managing real estate in and around Little Tokyo, the LTCIF will contribute to community revitalization and cultural preservation while allowing community members to own a stake in the neighborhood for years to come.

“As a resident of Little Tokyo for the past 8 years, I see it has become urgent that we focus on preserving Little Tokyo’s history and heritage. We owe it to the Issei and Nisei who built this community,” says LTCIF member Patty Nagano. “We need to keep the kimochi (heart) of Little Tokyo alive for generations.”

The LTCIF is led by longstanding stakeholders, experts in real estate and finance, and members of the non-profit community in Little Tokyo. Established in 2018, the LTCIF is dedicated to preserving the legacy of Japanese American family-owned businesses, cultural institutions, & spiritual centers in Little Tokyo of Los Angeles. To learn more about the Fund please visit www.littletokyocif.com. To RSVP for the South Bay Kick Off, please go to https://tinyurl.com/ltcifsouthbay.

* THE COMMISSIONER OF BUSINESS OVERSIGHT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DOES NOT RECOMMEND OR ENDORSE THE PURCHASE OF THESE SECURITIES.

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Keeping Mom & Pop on the Block

LTCIF is an emerging model for anti-displacement that centers community investment and ownership. Just last month at Los Angeles LISC’s “Preserving Cultural Neighborhood Gems” Convening on October 15th, LTCIF organizing committee members Bill Watanabe and Lisa Hasegawa joined a panel alongside CDC Small Business Finance and With Love Café and Market to discuss financial tools that could help sustain small businesses at risk of displacement.

The panel highlighted the need to think outside the box and create resources beyond traditional lending and financing tools that are not necessarily accessible to different communities impacted by rising rents and gentrification. The growing movement of LTCIF is made possible by a committee of dedicated individuals who share their expertise and networks and also by stakeholders who want to see Little Tokyo grow.

“We’re drawing from a regional pool of people who care about Little Tokyo. And [the Fund’s purpose] crosses race, class, geography…[our approach is] multi-generational…It’s really about building that community stake,” explained Lisa Hasegawa when asked about the partnerships that LTCIF has developed.

The panel was moderated by LA LISC Executive Director, Tunua Thrash-Ntuk.

Here are some highlights of the panel:

  • Bill Watanabe shared how the Fund started as a conversation in a living room among Little Tokyo community advocates and stakeholders. The rational behind the $10,000 and $1,000 share options is informed by meetings with community members and attorney, Brett Heger. In 2 months, LTCIF is halfway to their goal of $500,000!
  • Tony Barengo from CDC Small Business Finance shared information about their partnership with LISC where they offer loans (leveraged by sources such as New Market Tax Credits) to small businesses to own their spaces. The loan rates offered to these businesses are below market rate and take “the best parts” of the SBA commercial real estate loan to provide more flexibility to applicants.
  • Andrew McDowell, owner of With Love Café located near South LA, presented on his innovative social-enterprise model for his business where he invites community members to be investors and co-owners.

Although these strategies serve different neighborhoods, they are rooted in a similar purpose: to address displacement in their communities. They are examples of new and emerging models for ownership and resources for anti-displacement efforts.

A partial recording of the panel is available below (28 minutes):

LTCIF’s strategies is informed by community input and relies on the participation of CA residents. To learn more about our model and become an investor, please visit our “Invest” page.

All prospective investors should: 1) review LTCIF’s Offering Circular, 2) sign the subscription agreement and investor questionnaire, and 3) submit a payment to purchase a share or multiple shares.