The rise of the Marina del Rey area as the county's newest office hub may be driven by a lack of available space elsewhere, but it's getting a big boost from the region's core asset.

The county-owned marina, known for its swinging singles scene in its 1960s and 1970s heyday, is in the midst of a $1.5 billion makeover that aims to transform it into a vibrant upscale resort, complete with luxury apartments, hotels, shops and time-shares.

Over the last three years, nearly $500 million worth of new and renovated apartments, boat slips and shopping centers have been completed. Another $1 billion in various redevelopment projects are either under construction or in the planning stages. Slated are more than 2,000 apartment units, hundreds of new hotel rooms and time shares, a complete makeover of Fisherman's Village, new shopping centers with upscale restaurants and hundreds of new boat slips or boat storage spaces.

"The Marina is the crown jewel of L.A. County land, but it's a jewel that needs polishing," said L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents the area.

The redevelopment of the marina would also bring in millions of additional dollars to county coffers through renegotiated long-term leases, allowing the county to finally reap the benefits of the market potential for its prime waterfront real estate. For decades, the county has been locked into leases set in the 1960s that have been a major stumbling block to upgrades of the aging apartment and retail stock.

"There is a fine line when it comes to maximizing county revenue from the Marina," Knabe said. "Ten or twenty years ago, the criticism from outside was that we were doing too little to maximize our revenue. Now, (critics say) we're doing too much."

But all these projects have generated intense opposition from local residents and long-time marina users, who fear gentrification and gridlocked traffic from the redevelopment. They would rather have the county upgrade the marina and boat facilities, without the new apartments, hotels, time shares and shopping centers.

"First and foremost the Marina is a boating and recreational area, and we want it to remain that way," said Don Klein, president of the Coalition to Save the Marina and a longtime boater who uses the marina. "So many of these projects are essentially for warehousing private individuals on public land, while the public is largely shut out."

Building spree

Yet several of the projects do have boating components. For example, longtime Marina del Rey developer Doug Ring's Deauville project and Bar Harbor project together will add 432 boat slips, along with 1,022 new apartment units.

"I'm trying to bring the sites that I'm in control of up to date. But I have just a portion of the whole (marina). It's difficult to have a cohesive plan when there are so many leaseholders and opposition from NIMBY folks," Ring said. The first phase is currently under construction.

Besides Ring's redevelopments, two major shopping centers have recently been renovated. Rick Caruso, developer of the wildly popular Grove shopping center in L.A.'s Fairfax district, completely remade the Marina Waterside center. The Marina Beach shopping center, meanwhile, has also had a makeover, with 9,000 additional square feet of retail space and an entrance park.

Two major apartment complexes have also been updated: the 624-unit Archstone Apartments complex and the 597-unit Oakwood Corporate Apartments, while two entirely new apartment complexes have also been built.

More projects are on tap. Among these: a proposal for a 19-story Woodfin Suites Hotel with 152 hotel rooms and 136 time share units; a proposal from Neptune Marina Legacy Partners for 526 apartment units, a 161-slip marina and a waterfront promenade; and the revamp of Fisherman's Village, with a 132-room hotel, 30 new marina slips and 65,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space.

The Fisherman's Village proposal would include a "much more upscale retail and restaurant tenant mix" than what currently exists, making it a destination point for visitors from throughout Southern California, said Kerry Silverstrom, chief deputy director of the L.A. County Department of Beaches and Harbors, which administers the Marina.

Klein and other critics contend that the county isn't taking into consideration the cumulative effects of additional traffic generated by these redevelopment projects and the explosion of major projects going up on land surrounding Marina del Rey, such as Playa Vista.

However, Silverstrom and Knabe's office note that the county requires developers to put $5,000 in a traffic mitigation fund for every additional peak hour trip generated. That money would be used for, among other things, widening Admiralty Way, the main Marina del Rey thoroughfare, and more shuttles and water taxis.

The county is also seeking state funds to extend the Marina (90) Freeway from its current terminus at Culver Boulevard one mile west to Lincoln Boulevard on the border of the marina.

Klein is skeptical. "The question is: What if all the mitigation doesn't work and the traffic doesn't improve? What then? It will be constant gridlock and no one will be able to use the marina."

County officials counter that less than 1,200 additional peak hour vehicle trips will be generated by all the new development. And they have pledged to work with L.A. city officials to implement a regional traffic mitigation plan, with the first focus on Lincoln Boulevard.

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