The project still faces hurdles. The local business community, guided by port interests, has been at best lukewarm about the project and is concerned that certain elements will hurt the economy by hindering port operations. Most notably, two Department of Water and Power tankers, leased by Valero Energy Corp., must be removed to make way for the project.

Dan Hoffman, director of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has been taking a "wait-and-see" approach to the waterfront development. "I know that there is huge support within the community for the project. The sense that I get is that we want there to be a balance, that nothing is kind of black of white," he said.

Dirty Wall
Back in 2001, Wilmington activists found one thing black and white: their opposition to the proposed 1.6-mile, 20-foot wall to run along C Street, one of the city's main arteries. The wall, intended to lessen noise problems, would separate the community from the port.

"I called it the dirty wall," said Skip Baldwin, a leader of the Wilmington Citizens Committee. "We were complaining so loudly that all the people who were running for mayor four years ago, they all heard about it. All these people said there will be no wall built there."

The wall wasn't only about noise abatement: it also delineated the area into which the port could continue to expand. The port had swallowed up adjacent land and container terminal operator TraPac Inc., which declined comment for this article, sought to move into land abutting its current facility.

Buoyed by a court decision that prevented China Ocean Shipping Co. from constructing a container complex at the port, the activists began to believe that not only could they stop the wall, they could win a fight to use the land for the community. So, Mejia and Baldwin suggested the area be turned into a park, dubbed POLA for Port of Los Angeles.

At the same time, Jesse Marquez, founder of the Wilmington Coalition for a Safe Environment, developed his own plans. More elaborate than the park plan, Marquez's vision included a soccer field, stadium, manmade lake, museum, shops and a new fire station, among other things.

In 2003, the San Francisco-based firm SMWM was brought in to put the ideas on paper. Before that, awash in suggestions, Melendez said there was no clear direction and the project was in danger of getting swamped.

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