LOS ANGELES (AP) — The University of Southern California broke out the Trojan Marching Band on Monday to beat the drum for a $650 million expansion that school officials say will not only transform the campus but also the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood surrounding it.
When completed in 2017, officials say the project will replace what was once a seedy old shopping center adjacent to USC with a bucolic, village-like setting of walkways, plazas and green space that will be dotted with retail outlets such as a grocery store, salons, boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, a bank, a 30,000-square foot fitness center and on-campus housing for 2,700 students.
"It will be transformative, not only for the university but for the community," Thomas Sayles, USC's senior vice president for university relations, told The Associated Press. "I think we will have one of the most attractive, most interesting urban campuses in the country, if not the most, when this is completed."
Officials say it is the most ambitious expansion undertaken in the prestigious private university's 134-year history and perhaps the largest in south Los Angeles as well. Although Monday marked the project's official groundbreaking, the shopping center has already been torn down.
To formally kick the project off, a cannon blasted confetti into the air as the band played and several people wielded shovels.
When the city of Los Angeles approved the development last year, university officials said they expected the project would bring as many as 8,000 permanent new jobs to the community and about 4,000 temporary ones. University officials say they plan to fill at least 30 percent of the jobs with local residents.
Officials also stressed that USC is footing the bill for the development, which will also include a community room and other educational and community facilities.
"It's a $650 million investment in our community," said Sayles, who himself grew up in the neighborhood. "There is no taxpayer support, and there are no subsidies."
While many of the 15-acre village's amenities will be open to the public, for security reasons it will be closed to all but students, faculty and approved visitors between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Although much of the neighborhood surrounding USC has gentrified in recent years, there are still pockets of poverty, crime and gang violence in the area south of downtown.
In July, an engineering student from China was beaten to death by a group of attackers as he walked to his apartment from campus following a study-group meeting. In 2012, two students from China were shot to death during a robbery near campus.
"We do a lot to ensure the safety of our students, and we'll continue to do that," Sayles said. He added that the campus is particularly excited about the opportunity to add housing for 2,700 more students. That will bring the total number of students housed on campus to about 10,000.
The university currently has about 41,000 students.