When it came time to figure out how to revitalize Marina del Rey once one of L.A.'s hottest areas for recreation and nightlife planners looked to the competition.

The aging Marina has been eclipsed in recent years by Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, CityWalk in Universal City and Old Town Pasadena all places where local residents and tourists can spend the day or evening walking around and dropping dollars at movie theaters, restaurants and retail stores.

But unlike those places, Marina del Rey is not pedestrian-friendly. Residents and tourists are not easily able to park their cars in a lot or garage and then spend the day wandering about.

"It's not very visitor-friendly right now," conceded Kerry Gottlieb, chief deputy director with the county's Department of Beaches and Harbors. "If you don't live here, and you're not a boater, by and large the reason you come to Marina del Rey is to eat at a restaurant. But you don't come and stay."

John Stutsman, a partner with L.A.-based Gruen Associates, which served as a consultant to the county on the redesign of the Marina, said that Marina del Rey reflects the tastes of a different time.

"Frankly, the Marina was designed in the apex of the auto age," Stutsman said. "People were not walking, bicycling, jogging I think people forget (it was) the late '60s when this thing was designed."

But times have changed, Stutsman said, so his firm and officials with Los Angeles County which owns most of the Marina are devising a redevelopment plan to encourage visitors to park their cars and linger at the Marina.

One of the key components to the plan known as the "Marina del Rey Asset Management Strategy" is a promenade that runs along the waterfront.

"You can go and be right on the water and have some novel, unique retail and eating opportunities," Stutsman said of the plan.

Barna Szabo, executive director of the Marina del Rey Lessees Association, said the planned promenade will help the area's businesses.

"If you're walking around, you're more likely to shop, you're more likely to eat, you're more likely to spend more time," Szabo said. "If you have a chance to walk around, you spend more time. And you have a chance to get a flavor of what's available."

A promenade already runs along parts of the waterfront, where there are several restaurants. But the promenade is not accessible in certain areas, such as along the waterfront side of California Yacht Club, and it is not landscaped in a way that is inviting to pedestrian traffic.

"We want to have lights, and benches, and signs," Gottlieb said. "Landscaping, fencing things that give the promenade a wonderful ambiance at the water, so that people want to stroll along the promenade on the waterfront."

Gottlieb said there also is room for additional restaurants and retail stores along the planned 28-foot-wide promenade.

The project areas one located at the east end of the Marina, and one at the southwest end are intended to be the Marina's anchors.

The eastern project the first that likely will be developed will be a high-activity retail and entertainment area. The area could include such amenities as a water-themed IMAX theater, virtual-reality rides and attractions, simulated surfing and deep-sea diving attractions, water-themed museums, and performing-arts centers.

The southern project, located adjacent to "Mother's Beach," will be a more family- and leisure-oriented area. Among the attractions that could be included are resort hotels, boats-for-hire, picnic and barbecue areas, volleyball courts, spas, specialty shops, coffeehouses, and waterfront restaurants.

"So you would have two very different projects that would bring tourists and non-residents to the area," Gottlieb said.

The Beaches and Harbors Department expects to issue a request for qualifications to bid on proposing a design for the first site by the end of the year. Two or three of the bidders will be selected to go into a final bid.

Both projects along with the promenade are intended to keep visitors at the Marina for days, evenings, or even whole weekends.

"There's not much (undeveloped) waterfront property on the West Coast left, and I think that's why it was critical to have a plan for the future," said County Supervisor Don Knabe, whose district includes Marina del Rey.

But Gottlieb said that the Marina revitalization while badly needed will likely be a slow process, since all developments will need approval from the county and from the state's Coastal Commission.

"I don't anticipate seeing a spade turn ground next year, but maybe in the next couple of years," she said.

But Gottlieb added that opening the waterfront promenade even without its added amenities likely will come sooner.

"We're trying to get the concurrence of all the lessees to open it up right away," she said.

The renovation is important not only to those who hold leases at the Marina, but also to L.A. County.

The Beaches and Harbors Department estimates the county will receive $31.5 million in annual revenues through 2020 without the asset management strategy, but $33.8 million annually with it.

More importantly, the department estimates that after most of the Marina leases expire in 2030, the county could receive $43.3 million in annual revenues from Marina del Rey without the strategy, but $58.3 million a year with it an increase of 35 percent.

"It's a water project that is second to none," Knabe said. "It's an ideal location, an ideal piece of property, but it needs a rehab."

Szabo agreed that now is the perfect time to start overhauling Marina del Rey, since the economy is on an upswing giving lessees more money to redevelop and refurbish.

"The facilities are in a situation where each year they are going to need more and more commitment for maintenance. What you have there is a Marina that has aged both in the buildings and in the docks," Szabo said, adding that many of the buildings were only meant to have a 20- to 25-year life span and the docks are mostly made of deteriorating wood.

"The time has come to revitalize the Marina," he said.

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