The Most Elusive Piece of Land in Los Angeles

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Lots of people want a piece of the bustling Lincoln Heights shipping yard known as Piggyback Yard. Actually, they don’t want a piece—they want the whole thing, all 125, LA River-side acres of it. But Piggyback Yard owners Union Pacific Railroad have kept firm throughout the years about refusing to sell.

Not even the Olympics could change the railroad’s mind. LA’s initial Olympic bid presented the property as the home of the 2024 Olympic Village, but more recently the official plan has shifted the Olympic Village to UCLA. “Union Pacific has been clear that we have no plans to relocate or sell the property,” a Union Pacific spokesman tells the LA Business Journal.

That unwavering opposition has crushed some dreams over the years, from river revitalization to a soccer stadium. Most recently, though there was the Olympic Village. Piggyback Yard is a big site close to Downtown and right along the LA River (which officials want to play a big role in the Olympics), and was understandably attractive as a possible site for the Olympic Village. But city analysts questioned how much the acquisition of the land would cost (its worth has been estimated around $650 million), and not long after, an updated bid had ditched Piggyback.

Piggyback’s position along the LA River and large size has also made it a vital element in plans to spend upwards of $1 billion revitalizing a significant section of the very industrial-looking flood channel. Though many advocates are hoping that the plan will eventually move forward with a Piggyback Yard makeover included, and though there have been great strides made toward getting it funded, in the end, the Piggyback project “could be dropped due to costs and uncertainty over whether Union Pacific would agree to sell.” (The cost of buying the yard would be part of the $1-billion cost for the whole project, and that is likely to drive the final total for the rehab way up.)

Piggyback Yard has even turned down a soccer team. The new Los Angeles Football Club considered trying to put their stadium on the well-situated site, but moved on before even beginning negotiations with Union Pacific. “You initially believe, Oh, yeah, that’s gettable. Then you find out it’s a working rail yard for one of the biggest rail companies in the country and you’d have to replace what they have, and replace the infrastructure or build on top of it,” says an LAFC co-owner. Eventually, the team decided to build a stadium in Exposition Park.

Union Pacific, in a letter sent to LA in 2014, sort of alluded to a possible resolution, saying it was “possible that a sale or exchange agreement could be reached, but only if, on terms acceptable to Union Pacific management in its sole discretion,” and of course, if “a suitable replacement facility with all necessary permits and approvals for Union Pacific’s exclusive use” could be set up. Basically, make them an offer that’s better than what they’ve got, and they’re in.

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