The Port of Los Angeles is rolling out preliminary plans today to build a massive marine research facility that officials hope will stimulate economic activity and help revitalize the San Pedro community.


Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the port, has been working behind the scenes for nearly two years to generate support for the project, which would be built on a 28-acre patch of land currently serving as a petrol chemical terminal.


The site, adjacent to downtown San Pedro, is a key battleground in the port's waterfront development efforts and planners expect the high-level research facility to be a catalyst for the area's economic resurgence.


"We have this vision of a premier research institution that attracts people from around the world," Knatz said. "We're talking about bringing a new industry to San Pedro and new jobs. These are good, high-paying jobs that would be a boost to the San Pedro economy."


Knatz is expected to unveil the concept for the project, called City Dock No. 1, at tonight's Los Angeles Harbor Commission meeting. Part of the impetus to move forward with the project, she said, came last week when the Annenberg Foundation said it will commit $50,000 in grant money to begin planning the facility.


The proposed research facility would include academic laboratories, government research facilities and real estate for future maritime-related businesses what planners are calling a "business incubator." Ideally, Knatz said, the facility would become a global leader in the study of climate change and sea level rise.


It is too early, she said, to estimate the cost or timeline of the project.
The move comes after the port announced in August it was terminating the lease of New Orleans-based liquid bulk operator Westway Terminal Co. Inc., which has occupied the site since 1996, as part of a larger effort to make the San Pedro waterfront more community-friendly. The port bought out the remaining 18 years of Westway's contract for $17 million.


The terminal is zoned for commercial activities and local business leaders envision an economic rebirth in San Pedro built, in part, around this new research institute.


"This is the kind of thing that over the long term can lead to an economic wealth cycle for the community," said Herb Zimmer, chairman of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce committee to promote waterfront economic development. "It breeds ideas and innovations and things that are going to become the basis of the new economy."

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