Competing Visions for Piggyback Yard

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A masterplan envisions a vibrant Piggyback Yards and a revitalized LA River. Courtesy Perkins + Will.
A masterplan envisions a vibrant Piggyback Yards and a revitalized LA River. Courtesy Perkins + Will. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The Los Angeles River has become a major focus for redevelopment in the city. Long the butt of jokes as a concrete channel without water, there’s now a confluence of big interests at the channel that could transform a piece of land you probably never heard of called Piggyback Yard.

It involves plans for revitalization of the LA River and for housing Olympians, but it all hangs on the decision of a major railroad company.

Piggyback Yard is located just east of the LA River, west of the 5 Freeway and USC Medical Center, north of the 10, and south of LA Brewery. The 120-acre rail yard is owned by Union Pacific Corp. The busy rail yard would be transformed into parkland and wetlands if the city manages to raise enough money and Union Pacific ever decides to sell. Architecture firm Mia Lehrer+Associates has been working pro bono to develop plans for the property with Friends of the LA River (FOLAR) and Perkins+Will.

A conceptual rendering of the Piggyback Yard site showing parkland surrounding the LA River.

There’s now also discussion of building housing for 16,500 Olympics athletes there for the 2024 games. Lewis MacAdams has said that FOLAR was left out of the discussions. But Mia Lehrer, LA2024 chairman Casey Wasserman and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti say they can co-exist.

“I think we would need to have it do both,” Garcetti said. “It may or may not be the final place where we have an Olympic Village. I think there are probably about two dozen sites that could take the village, including existing housing that we have. But we have a great opportunity to leave behind something that restores the river and provides housing in this housing crisis at an affordability that makes sure that the river’s revitalization isn’t a gentrification of those neighborhoods.”

Garcetti added that “we’re seeing if we can have our cake and eat it too,” but that “we’ll have to solve that problem together with Union Pacific.”

Meanwhile, Union Pacific is indicating they won’t sell the land. John Koraleski, Union Pacific’s chairman and chief executive, wrote in a 2014 letter to Garcetti and Olympic organizers, “Union Pacific has no plans to relocate or close this facility and is in fact planning a major modernization.”

Plus, any contaminated soil on the site would need to be cleaned up. And Union Pacific would need to relocate its rail yard operation to somewhere big enough. And, we won’t know until 2017 if LA will in fact host the 2024 Olympic Games.