LOS ANGELES, CA – The University of Southern California(USC) celebrated the opening of its Village in grand fashion. President C.L. Max Nikias led the festivities that attended by thousands of community members, students, alumni, media and elected officials.
The $700 million project that President Nikias called “a labor of love for all of us” is the largest in the history of the University and also one of the largest ever in South Los Angeles.
Talking about the project’s genesis, Nikias said “the initial plan was to assign it to a developer who would hadbuild the village and take a 50-year lease. I felt that it will be a big mistake if USC did not develop the project and shortly after I became president, I suggested to the board of trustees to change the plan and they did. I wanted the design to be more accommodating to the students needs and the complex to be inviting to the community. Building it ourselves is evidence of our enduring commitment to our exceptional students and our beloved neighbors.”
The six buildings are spread over 15 acres and will house 2,500 students with residential college suites on the upper floors, some with a kitchen, outdoor lounges where students can study or enjoy the views of downtown LA and retail on the groundlevel. Many of the USC’s Village trendy retailers such as Sunset Boulevard eatery and Trader Joe’s, who previously had been reluctant to expand in South LA, now are arriving for the first time offering new options to the neighborhood.The project that Dr. Nikias called a “powerhouse economic engine” also brought much-needed employment in the area. During construction it occupied more than 5600 construction workers from the community through a project labor agreement. More than 20 percent of the workers lived within 5 miles of the project, 423 trades apprenticeships were fostered and 324 disadvantaged local workers worked onsite. Since its completion it has created nearly 800 permanent full-time and part time jobs so far.
Councilman Curren Price, who represents LA’s9th district that includes USC, praised the University for being “a great partner and a strong advocate for the community’s interests.” Antonio Villaraigosa, who was mayor of Los Angeles when the project was approved, also praised USC for “understanding the key to the future is its connection to its neighborhood.”
USC provided more than $40 million in community benefits including $20 million for affordable housing and $16 million to build a new state-of-the-art fire station while preserving the old one. Nikias unveiled a 20-foot tall statue of Hecuba, Queen of Troy, as confetti cannons showered cardinal and gold streamers and the USC Trojan Marching Band performed. The statue has the imprint of President Nikias as well. “When I visited the Acropolis Museum I took pictures of the Caryatides and sent them to the sculptor. I suggested that the hair and the dress of Hecuba resemble that of the Caryatides, and they do,” he said. And his input is also shown at the basis of the statue where six figures represent the studies of six disciplines. “There are three excerpts, two in Ancient Greek from Euripides that I have handwritten, accompanied by the English translations and one from Shakespeare. They were my choices,” he told TNH.
The statue is “our commitment to all of the women of the Trojan family who share the same spirit as the majestic Queen of Troy” he said.
The timing of the opening could not had come at a better time as the University had been receiving criticism about its handling of the former dean of the Keck School of Medicine, Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito, who according to a report revealed by the Los Angeles Times, was addicted to drugs and associated with criminals regarding that addiction. Commenting about the case, Nikias said that “USC is taking this incident very, very seriously.” USC has attained the services of Debra Wong Yang, a former federal prosecutor and “we will examine what new policies we can put in place to avoid this happening in the future.”Noting that an alarming 12 percent of medical professionals suffer from some kind of addiction, he said that “We have acted in good faith, no one knew about the dean’s addiction but one person’s addiction and downfall cannot take away the fact that USC is and will remain a world class academic institution.” To maintain USC’s world class academic excellence, the school is planning for the future right now.
Nikias said that “we have been working with Los Angeles County and City of LA officials to bring a biotechnology park in East Los Angeles. The city of LA has fallen behind in the race of biotechnology investment and we believe that the proximity to USC hospitals, research institutions, and more than 5000 university graduates in related fields will provide an excellent infrastructure and human capital to the biotech industry.” According to the trade organization Biocom, biotechnology creates $317 billion in annual economic activity in California but Los Angeles only captures about 13 percent of that. USC’s biotech park hopes to change that.