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DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter

Long Beach officials are close to choosing a developer to build a 225,000-square-foot retail and entertainment complex the centerpiece of a seaside project that officials hope will make people think of Long Beach as a resort, and not just a port.

Once selected by the city from two finalists, the developer will enter into exclusive negotiations with Long Beach to design and build a commercial center expected to feature theme restaurants, movie theaters, stores and comedy and magic clubs.

The commercial center will be at the heart of the Queensway Bay project. The center, combined with another retail complex nearby, will cost at least $100 million to develop, officials said.

The entire Queensway Bay project a shore-side development that will also include an aquarium, boat launches and an events park is the most visible part of a plan by city officials to remake Long Beach's image.

"The purpose of the project is to make downtown Long Beach the premiere waterfront attraction in Southern California," said Robert Paternoster, the city's director for the Queensway Bay project.

Long Beach was hit hard in the early '90s by the downsizing of the aerospace industry, and is still dealing with its repercussions, including the recent bid by Seattle-based Boeing Co. to purchase McDonnell Douglas Corp., whose military transport aircraft division is based in Long Beach.

Long Beach city officials want to use Queensway Bay and other projects to transform the area from one tied to aerospace and seaports to one associated with tourism and retail areas where even city officials admit Long Beach has been weak in the past.

While most of the Queensway Bay project is being funded through public money including revenue bonds, federal highway funds and federal urban development loans the seaside retail/entertainment complex will be built by a private developer.

The developer chosen will also build a separate 235,000-square-foot retail complex near the city's recently refurbished Long Beach Convention Center. That complex would be more of a traditional retail center, Paternoster said.

Although Paternoster and other city officials declined to identify the two finalists who were narrowed down from 15 original candidates insiders indentified them as San Diego-based OliverMcMillan LLC and San Diego-based TrizecHahn Centers, a division of Toronto-based TrizecHahn Corp.

The company to develop the project is expected to be chosen within two months. TrizecHahn and OliverMcMillan officials declined comment.

Long Beach city officials are hoping that the new retail/entertainment complex as well as other planned Queensway Bay draws, such as the $100 million Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific and the Downtown Harbor boat launch will help make Long Beach a tourist destination.

"We want to create so many things to see and do in Long Beach that it creates the need to stay overnight," said Linda Howell-DiMario, president and chief executive officer of the Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Howell-DiMario said that the purpose of the center, as well as the entire Queensway Bay project, is to create a "critical mass" for Long Beach the point at which tourists have to stay over at least one night in order to take advantage of all the city's attractions.

The purpose of that, Howell-DiMario said, is to generate more occupancy taxes from the city's hotels, as well as more tax revenue from the city's restaurants, stores and clubs. Long Beach visitors who stay in hotels spend close to $200 a day, she said.

"All of that creates yet another tax base opportunity for us in sales and use taxes," she said.

Long Beach currently attracts about four million visitors a year, and they bring upwards of $390 million into the local economy each year, Howell-DiMario said.

"We're hoping that at least another million people will find their way to Long Beach as a consequence of these projects, and that's being conservative," she said.

The anchor for Queensway Bay, Howell-DiMario said, is the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. The aquarium which will feature an underwater acrylic tunnel surrounded by sharks and the world's largest coral reef exhibit in its 150,000 square feet of exhibit space is expected to attract between 1.5 million and two million visitors a year. It is scheduled to open in June 1998.

Other features of Queensway Bay include the nearby Long Beach Convention Center, which recently underwent a $111 million expansion, and the Downtown Harbor, which will be the launching site for whale watching, diving, sightseeing and dinner cruise boats.

The entire Queensway Project is expected to be completed between June 1998 and June 1999, depending on which developer for the retail/entertainment complex is selected, Paternoster said.

"This will complete the vital link between downtown and the waterfront," he said.

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