Once a bustling waterfront community full of fishermen, cannery workers and shipbuilders, downtown San Pedro has in recent decades become a symbol of urban decay.

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Seedy bars and tattoo parlors, mom-and-pop stores struggling in half-vacant buildings and low-income housing projects all within yards of the waterfront and the massive Port of Los Angeles complex.

But, finally, San Pedro is showing some signs of new life.

Led by a wave of loft and condominium developments, more than 1,200 residential units have been completed or are under construction, most of these in five major projects that also contain tens of thousands of square feet of retail space. New businesses are opening up, halting a decades-long business exodus. In addition, plans for a waterfront makeover are finally getting some serious attention.

"This is all very amazing. We're seeing hundreds of millions of dollars of investment pouring in, which is just great for our community," said Joe Gatlin, president of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council and a San Pedro native who has waited nearly 40 years to see such a turnaround.

Yet for all the promise, the revitalization remains fragile.

Only a handful of the dozens of blocks that comprise downtown San Pedro have been touched so far and there are precious few new jobs for the urban professionals that the development projects are being marketed to.

Plus, in a case of bad timing, most of these residential units are coming on line in the midst of the worst real estate downturn in years.

Just as important, downtown San Pedro remains largely isolated from the waterfront that was so vital to its early days as a center of fishing, canning and shipbuilding. While there are grand plans to remake the entire waterfront and connect it to the downtown district, those plans largely hinge on the whims of the Port of Los Angeles, which until recently has largely ignored its San Pedro neighbor.

"This is a waterfront that could rival the great waterfronts of San Diego, Long Beach and San Francisco something that people from all over the region and beyond could flock to," said L.A. City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, a longtime San Pedro resident who now represents the area.

The port does have a $1.1 billion plan to remake the waterfront and realign the streets to connect the waterfront to downtown San Pedro. But that plan is only now coming to public review and actual construction remains years away. (See article page 25.)

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