Ports O' Call Village was once a top Southland tourist attraction.

But after decades of neglect, the waterfront center of New England-style cottages where merchants hawk fresh fish and maritime-themed tchotchkes is a shell of its former self.

Business owners, patrons and city leaders bemoan the decline of the once-vibrant village. Indeed, even officials at the Port of Los Angeles, which owns the property, admit they have waited too long for a revival.

Despite a history of dead ends, the port is poised to embark upon a $1.1 billion redevelopment project that will integrate the waterfront with San Pedro's downtown and complement the new residential construction projects cropping up in the area. At the heart of the effort will be a new, modern retail and restaurant complex to replace the aging clapboard village.

"What we need to do at Ports O' Call is redevelop the site and bring in new investments that will revitalize that area and make it appealing both to the local residents and the wider community," said Kathryn McDermott, deputy executive director of business development for the port.

For some business owners, improvement cannot come soon enough.

Jayme Wilson owns several businesses in the center, including the popular Ports O' Call Restaurant, and his facilities are showing their age. The roof over his boat tour business, Spirit Cruises, is sheathed in plastic to help stem a corrosion problem he first noticed in summer 2003. Almost five years later, the port has not fixed it.

"It's very embarrassing," Wilson lamented. "The port is required in my lease to maintain the roofs, but they're still getting quotes, they're still looking at it."

Though it is little more than a minor nuisance, the roof is a symbol of the decay that has become endemic to Ports O' Call over the years.

The decline of the village is due in part to a dramatic shift in the retail landscape in recent decades that has driven many mom-and-pop shops out of business. As Wilson puts it, "The world changed in the last 45 years and this waterfront has not."

Nevertheless, the village still attracts a crowd on weekends as families come to dine on fresh seafood while street musicians play tunes for pocket change.

But Ports O' Call is difficult to access by foot from the downtown area and fails to capitalize on its waterfront location. When it was built, the waterfront structures blocked views and cut off access to the water for residents.


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