Spending leisure time along the San Pedro waterfront is not exactly pleasurable, with barren patches of gated land, few restaurants and not even a public walkway for much of its span.
The most popular destination, the 47-year-old Ports O' Call Village, home to fish markets and small tchochkes shops, is blemished by chipped paint, termites and decaying roofs.
Now, a $1.2 billion redevelopment plan that will be considered next week by the Port of Los Angeles seeks to change all that.
This ambitious project includes the construction of an 8-mile promenade to downtown San Pedro, bike paths, parks, a pier and extension of the port's popular streetcar service. But that very ambition has engendered skepticism given how past plans have faltered.
"There's no doubt that San Pedro needs this project and that we want to have a world-class waterfront," said Jayme Wilson, who owns multiple businesses in the project's area, including the Ports O' Call Restaurant and Spirit Cruises boat tour. "But I think the biggest challenge will be the financing with trade down and getting businesses and developers to come in."
Port officials don't entirely disagree.
The Sept. 29 vote by the Board of Harbor Commissioners will be on the project's massive 8,456-page environmental report. And if the expected approval is not appealed to the City Council, the next step would be for the port to issue a request for proposals for specific projects, with the construction of the 8-mile promenade first in line.
Port Executive Director Geraldine Knatz said that with the project expected to take 10 to 15 years to complete, the port will have to work closely with developers to get it done.
The port has agreed to help fund the massive redevelopment, but with the sharp downturn in international trade, it has not committed to specific funding.
"We can't do this alone; there's no way. We need to look to the private sector," said Geraldine Knatz, the port's executive director. "However, we look at this project as a public service and not merely a way to shore up business. We know it's time to give the waterfront back to the public."
In the works
The San Pedro waterfront's best-known feature, aside from the port itself with its giant cranes and ships, has always been the Ports O' Call Village, a New England-themed tourist attraction.
The complex of restaurants and small shops selling candy and maritime souvenirs was once a hot local attraction, but it has been in disrepair for decades while the nearby waterfront has remained an industrial, no-pedestrian zone.
But in 2001, then-Mayor James Hahn, who lives in the community, vowed to revitalize the area, leading to several proposals and reports that eventually lost steam as leadership at the port and the city changed.
One plan stretched for 30 years and envisioned a waterfront crowded with lofts and shops, the kind of development that flourished from Baltimore to Seattle during the boom. But with San Pedro miles away from downtown or the Westside, the plan never gained traction.
By the time Knatz became the port's director in 2006, she suggested thinking a bit smaller.
"The problem is that the world changes too much in 30 years, so while the plan had some great ideas, it wasn't something that seemed feasible looking that far into a future we can't see that well into," she said.
The current project calls for awarding a developer a contract to redevelop the village into a 300,000-square-foot retail and restaurant complex. Wilson is concerned that any replacement attraction may turn out to be "generic," but concerns didn't stop the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce from recently voting to support the larger plan.
Camilla Townsend, chief executive of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce and a former Port of Los Angeles harbor commissioner under Hahn, said the plan lays out a blueprint for development while allowing the details to be filled in later.
"This is the closest we've ever gotten to seeing any plan being approved," Townsend said. "I think this is our best shot in a long time to get this done."
The chamber's board voted last week to support the plan, which also has drawn key backing from Hahn's sister, Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn , who represents the area.
Blowing off steam
While there is consensus in San Pedro supporting revitalization of the waterfront, an element in the plan to reconstruct and expand the cruise ship terminals is controversial.
Most cruise ships use the Inner Harbor's World Cruise Center near downtown San Pedro to dock, but occasionally, when the port has three ships at berth, cruise ships have to dock in the Outer Harbor several miles away.
The port is proposing to reconstruct the main World Cruise Center and build a second terminal in the Outer Harbor. But the coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council contends the second terminal will result in security restrictions limiting access to the nearby San Pedro marina. There also are worries about traffic congestion because passengers would still need to be bused back to the main terminal where parking is located.
Resident Peter M. Warren, chairman of the port and environment committee for the neighborhood council, said the level of cruise traffic doesn't warrant expanding the terminal.
"In the current environment, with the port utilizing all three berths just six days out of 365 a year there is no reason to build new terminals," he said.
Knatz said the port plans to renovate the World Cruise Center first and only build the Outer Harbor terminal if market conditions warrant.
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