Does Southern California need a shipyard?

Robert Stein is willing to bet $50 million that it does. But the Port of Los Angeles doesn’t seem too willing to go along.

Stein is president of Gambol Industries Inc., a Long Beach company that believes it holds a key to the region’s maritime future: renovation of a 19-acre facility at the port to build and service large ships. The site has the only two slips in Los Angeles and Long Beach big enough to do that. The slips are like a community asset that are going unused, he said.

While the port already has a boatyard for smaller craft of up to 260 feet, large vessels have to cruise to San Diego or San Francisco to get dry-dock repairs.

“Why should customers drag their vessels up and down the coast when we have an ideal place to work on them here?” he said. “It will be a nice return for us, and it will serve the community’s needs.”

Stein, whose company already owns a smaller boatyard at the Port of Long Beach, wants to build his new facility at the site of the now-abandoned Southwest Marine shipyard on the southwest corner of Terminal Island.

Besides the two supersize slips, the site includes seven cranes, dry-dock facilities and a number of buildings. Stein plans to spend the money to rehabilitate all the facilities including the slips and dry docks to work on ships up to 720 feet long.

Dry docks allow vessels to be raised out of the water for such jobs as painting, routine inspections and hull repairs. The proposed Gambol Marine Center also would be able to build yachts up to 350 feet long, plus ferries and barges up to 500 feet.

Some question whether a shipyard is needed, arguing there isn’t enough business to go around. But Steven Erie, a UC San Diego urban studies professor who has written about the ports, believes that since the nearest large-vessel facilities are far away, the facility could flourish.

“Given the number of big ships using the ports of San Pedro Bay,” Erie said, the proposal could “make economic sense.”

More ominously, however, the company has been at loggerheads with the Port of Los Angeles. The port wants to wall off the openings of the big slips and fill the cavities with sludge from channel-deepening work that is to take place elsewhere at the complex.

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