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Construction Launches for Little Tokyo Gymnasium

Aerial view shows construction under way on the Terasaki Budokan on Los Angeles Street in Little Tokyo. It is scheduled to be completed in early 2020.

For those passing by the future site of Terasaki Budokan sports and community center on Los Angeles Street between Second and Third streets in recent weeks, it’s been apparent big changes are afoot.

The six-story VIDA building, which previously occupied the parcel, has been demolished. Bulldozers with towering arms operate between hills of broken concrete and tangled rebar.

“It’s definitely an exciting time for the project,” said Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) Executive Director Dean Matsubayashi. “After years of hard work and perseverance, it’s gratifying to see construction in full swing.”

Advocates for a gymnasium in Little Tokyo have been calling for a facility since the 1970s. In 1994, the nonprofit social services and community development organization LTSC took on the project under the leadership of then Executive Director Bill Watanabe. Strong community support propelled the campaign forward.

“We always saw Budokan as a community-wide effort that will have a tremendous benefit for all of us, especially for children,” said Budokan Campaign Director Mike Murase. Hence the slogan “A Home Court for All.”

The Budokan project, however, encountered its share of bumps along the way. For years, the project stalled as LTSC searched for a site in Little Tokyo large enough to accommodate the facility. At times, proponents feared momentum would fizzle in the face of lofty fundraising targets.

But in 2011, the campaign experienced a breakthrough. With assistance from then Councilmember Jan Perry, LTSC acquired the Los Angeles Street site. Key support followed from various government sources and from foundations like WM Keck, Weingart, Parsons, Ahmanson and LA84.

Community donors also came up big. Among many significant contributions, gifts from the Aratani Foundation, the George, Ruri, Lisa and Nathan Sugimoto Family Foundation and Aiko Kawaratani were critical to the fundraising effort. Enthusiastic supporters also held dances, concerts, a hip-hop music celebration and other events to raise money and stoke interest in the project.

For each of the past three years, Toyota Motors has generously donated a Highlander Hybrid vehicle to be used as a raffle prize. This contribution, championed by Toyota CFO Tracey Doi, has created opportunities for LTSC to build relationships with numerous participating community sports organizations.

Rendering of the completed Terasaki Budokan.

The Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles also hosted a reception for Budokan, assembling member companies of the Japanese Business Association. Not long after, Mitsubishi Electric U.S. pledged to install solar panels on the roof of Budokan.

The campaign reached a new plateau in 2017, when the Terasaki Family Foundation, under the guidance of Dr. Keith Terasaki, donated $3.5 million to the cause, in honor of the late Paul I. Terasaki.

Another essential part of LTSC’s financing strategy was utilizing the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) Program. NMTC uses tax credits to attract private investment to distressed communities. Budokan’s NMTC lenders include Opportunity Fund, McCormack Baron Salazar and Los Angeles Development Fund. U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation stepped forward as the NMTC investor for the project.

To date, over $29 million has been raised for Budokan. But, according to Murase, this is no time to rest on our laurels. “Construction costs have risen sharply, even within the last year. We still need everyone to pitch in with donations to close the remaining gap and stay on track to open the facility.”

The current total project cost, which includes an endowment, is $33.7 million.

The projected opening date for Budokan is early 2020. The facility will feature a two-court gymnasium, an outdoor plaza with a stage, a community room, a toddlers’ playground and a community garden.

“We’re proud of the coalition that has come together to lift the Budokan campaign to where it is,” said Matsubayashi. “We’re on the verge of doing something great. If you want to be part of this story and make your mark, now is the time.”

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