The Port of Long Beach will soon start building almost five miles of railroad track near the docks, a move to ease congestion and speed cargo to points east.

The project involves adding a third set of tracks to the mainline south of Ocean Boulevard that serves the Middle Harbor terminal, Pier G and Pier J – an area of the port subject to tie-ups when cargo traffic gets heavy.

“It’s a big part of the rail business we do and yet it only has two tracks,” said port spokesman Art Wong. “When we’re busy, it’s a potential bottleneck.”

Port officials last month accepted a $17 million federal grant to help pay for the project, which will cost roughly $60 million and also includes building a rail yard at Pier F. Wong said the project will go out to bid in the next few months, with construction set to start early next year and last 19 months.

Both the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports have steadily built more rail infrastructure over the past few years as they seek to maintain their combined status as the main U.S. entry point for goods from Asia.

A widened Panama Canal that will accommodate larger cargo ships is set to open in 2014 and leaders at both ports are concerned some cargo will be sent to Gulf Coast or East Coast ports instead of Southern California. Port officials see better local rail infrastructure, which can get goods to eastern destinations more quickly than ships going through the canal, as key to continued competitiveness.

Fresh Catch

Cargo is king at the Port of Los Angeles, but leaders there are looking to build up a different industry, one that’s been largely ignored for the past few decades: tourism.

In the next few weeks, the port will start formally seeking a developer to bring a fresh look and new attractions to Ports O’Call Village, an aging stretch of shops and seafood restaurants on port property in San Pedro.

The port has approval from the California Coastal Commission for up to 300,000 square feet of development – twice the size of the existing village – on 30 acres of land between Sampson Way and the port’s main channel.

The planned released this month of a request for qualifications coincides with the opening of nearby attractions. The battleship U.S.S. Iowa, now docked in San Pedro, will open as a museum this month, and Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles, a year-round craft market inside two warehouses, opened June 29.

Port leaders hope those will generate more foot traffic around Ports O’Call, sweetening the location for a potential developer.

“This was part of the strategy. We needed build a critical mass and generate that buzz that there’s going to be this next great development,” said Geraldine Knatz, the port’s executive director.

The port has few specific guidelines for what should replace Ports O’Call, though any development must cater to waterfront visitors. That means no residences and no big-box retail. Knatz said she’d like to see attractions catering to young visitors.

“I’d like to see something so unique that my two 17-year-old boys will want to go there,” she said, acknowledging though that it’s a “tall order.”

Knatz said she would like the port to select a developer and start exclusive negotiations before the end of the year. The port would lease the land for as long as 50 years.

Last Lap

Andy Fuzesi got his start with the L.A. Auto Show when he was just a teenager, selling event programs in the mid-1960s outside of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium where it was then held. And since 1989, he’s been the show’s general manager.

But the next Auto Show, to be held at the Los Angeles Convention Center later this year, will be his last in that role. Fuzesi, 61, announced recently he plans to step down as general manager in January.

“It’s just the time,” he said. “It’s time for me to take a different role.”

During his 23 years as general manager, the show has grown from a regional event to one that draws exhibitors and guests from around the world. It’s become the biggest event staged at the Convention Center.

Fuzesi will remain a part owner of Ansa Productions Inc., the private company that produces the show, and said he will remain involved with the show. Executive-recruiting firm Dingman Co. of Westlake Village began searching for a replacement in April.

Staff reporter James Rufus Koren can be reached at jrkoren@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 225.

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