John Papadakis may not be larger than life, but the former USC linebacker is larger than most people. And his vision for the waterfront along San Pedro is quite a bit larger than L.A. port officials want to accommodate.

Where there are now tank farms and warehouses along the waterfront in San Pedro, Papadakis sees a promenade with retail development, parks and restaurants. Never mind that the industrial facilities are still in use and the Port of Los Angeles, which owns the land, is not planning to remove them anytime soon.

Yet the 50-year-old Papadakis, who owns the popular Papadakis Taverna in downtown San Pedro and chairs the Los Angeles Harbor-Watts Economic Development Corp., has thrown his considerable clout behind a plan to redevelop the waterfront and create a recreational zone stretching from the Vincent Thomas Bridge all the way down to Point Fermin.

He is no community gadfly with a wacky idea; he has the support of many of the most important public officials in Los Angeles, and is recruiting more all the time, using a combination of boundless energy, P.R. savvy and street smarts.

On a recent tour of the San Pedro waterfront with Rocky Delgadillo, deputy mayor for economic development and a candidate for L.A. city attorney, Papadakis made no qualms about what he envisions for the current industrial users of the land west of the port's Main Channel.

"This place should be given back to the people," Papadakis said as he stood between several huge liquid storage tanks and empty warehouses. "If it takes the port $10 million or $20 million to relocate these businesses and clean up this site, they will make it back on the long run."

Under the plan touted by Papadakis, a promenade and bike path of about four miles would connect a number of historic sites and provide public access to a waterfront that is now a grim-looking mish-mash of recreational and industrial zones with the half-vacant, rundown Port O' Call as its centerpiece.

Few denizens of the port are more suited for the challenges of revitalizing the area than Papadakis.

A former football star at USC (his son Petros currently plays on the team), Papadakis was born and raised in San Pedro. His grandfather arrived there in 1902 from Greece and eked out a living as a bootlegger during Prohibition.

When alcohol became legal again, the family stayed in the business and opened a liquor store where John Papadakis worked while growing up.


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