During the early design stages of Vue, a $175 million, 16-story condo project in the heart of downtown San Pedro, Raffi Cohen was unsatisfied with the cabinet finishes.

Rather than settle for a finish he didn't want, the longtime commercial developer hopped on a plane and flew to Canada, where he searched for cabinets that met his high standards and he personally negotiated a deal with the cabinetmaker.

Most high-profile developers wouldn't bother with such a minor detail, but associates of the principal officer of Beverly Hills-based Galaxy Commercial Holding LLC said he does things a bit differently.

With loads of energy and a dedication to his work, Cohen has built his company into one of the largest residential developers in the county. Now, with the Vue project, Cohen is leading a charge to make San Pedro relevant again and bring some cache back to a community that has suffered decades of decline.

"He walks with a purpose," said Rhonda Slavik, marketing director for Galaxy. "He came in when there wasn't anything more than four stories in San Pedro. He was able to come in the area and say this is going to be great. It was something that people in San Pedro hadn't seen."

It takes self-confidence to build the first ever high-rise condo tower in a modest waterfront community. But Cohen has taken on the challenge and it is already paying off.

Construction is nearly complete on the residential behemoth and move-in is expected to begin in October. Already, 250 of the 318 units about 80 percent have been sold despite the downturn in the housing market.

The project likely never would have happened without Cohen.

City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who has long fought to revitalize San Pedro, said Cohen "got the idea" almost immediately and saw that the area had tremendous untapped development potential.

"He got very excited when he also caught the vision," she said. "He wants to do more. He wants to build more. He is more excited about this place at times than even I am."

Building up

Now in his late 50s, Cohen is responsible for a number of large developments, including Blu, a 37-unit luxury condo project in Beverly Hills. In 2007, Galaxy ranked No. 10 on the Business Journal's annual list of the largest residential real estate developers in Los Angeles County.

Cohen's career is not unblemished, however. In the mid-1990s, county officials nixed a deal with the developer to build an office project next to Los Angeles City Hall after he fell behind more than $1 million on rent and property taxes.

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