By next summer, a pair of World War II-era warehouses that have stored everything from Navy rations to bulk cotton could instead house a hipster wonderland where handbags are made from repurposed book spines and vendors sell gourmet street food.
The Port of Los Angeles, which owns the faded, wooden warehouses in San Pedro near Cabrillo Marina, plans to lease them to a Santa Monica outfit that will turn the 70-year-old structures into a year-round market for craft art.
Port officials hope it will bring enough visitors to help spur the redevelopment of San Pedro’s waterfront, while developer Bergamot Station Ltd. sees it as a way to cash in on the demand for handmade, locally produced crafts.
“Right now, there’s a confluence of people wanting to be very careful about how they spend their money and wanting their purchases to be more meaningful,” said Alison Marik Zeno, manager of the project, to be called Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles.
Developing a craft-art market is a shift for Bergamot Station, which developed Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station Arts Center, a home to fine-art galleries and creative offices. The project at the port will be decidedly more populist.
Tenants at Crafted might include local artists who knit, make custom surfboards or craft jewelry from objects found near the port. Marik Zeno said the goal is to have fresh, interesting art that’s also approachable and affordable.
Port officials are hoping Crafted will help give the San Pedro waterfront a more steady stream of visitors, while port Executive Director Geraldine Knatz said Bergamot Station’s cachet should be useful in attracting a developer interested in revamping the port’s aging Ports O’ Call Village, a nearby strip of waterfront businesses that is busy only on weekends.
“There’s a little buzz from developers when they heard the folks from Bergamot Station were coming down,” Knatz said.
‘Not a swap meet’
San Pedro already has a local arts scene, with a few galleries in its historic downtown and the port is installing local art projects around the waterfront.
Marik Zeno said that makes San Pedro a good fit for Crafted, which she envisions as a place to spend a day, get some upscale street food and find an interesting trinket or two.
The project will turn 140,000 square feet in two warehouses into about 500 market stalls for artists and artisans selling anything from handmade jewelry to furniture made from repurposed wood.
“It’s not the guy who writes your name on a grain of rice, it’s not something you’d find at a swap meet or an antiques mall,” she said.
The goal instead is to bring in artists who will help keep a steady flow of traffic coming to the warehouses.
“We have to make sure this stays young and fresh, and refreshes itself. We won’t succeed if people come once a year to do their holiday shopping,” she said.
Bergamot Station projects Crafted will have 500,000 annual visitors based on attendance at local craft fairs and Laguna Beach’s annual Sawdust Art Festival.
Crafted will rent stalls to individual artists, with shorter leases to start and eventually graduate to minimum yearlong leases. Marik Zeno said rent hasn’t been set, but that a 100-square-foot stall might cost about $500 a month. That’s on the low end of what an artist might pay for a booth for a single weekend at a craft fair.
To start out, Crafted will only be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but it could eventually be open daily.
Bergamot Station and the port haven’t finalized a lease, but that’s expected in the next month or two. Marik Zeno said the plan is to divide Crafted into five phases, with the first and possibly second phases opening for business in June, and others opening through the end of 2013.
Along with revenue from rent, Crafted will generate money from parking and concessions. Like the craft art, the food at Crafted will be handcrafted, gourmet and affordable.
“Will we have a hotdog? Absolutely,” Marik Zeno said. “But it’ll probably be wrapped in bacon with a dollop of potato salad on top.”
San Pedro rising
The question for Crafted and the port is whether there’s enough demand for craft art to fill the massive warehouses, and surrounding businesses, with customers.
Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, a professor of policy, planning and development at USC who studies the economic impact of art, said craft art and locally made goods are growing more popular.
“There is a movement, culturally, to more boutique, unique, distinctive consumer goods,” she said.
But she noted that Crafted might need more development around it.
“You need places to have dinner, to have lunch, to get coffee. You want to have an overall experience,” Currid-Halkett said.
Knatz, the port director, noted that the project is just one of several that will draw more visitors, and more development, to the San Pedro waterfront.
The U.S. Navy this month announced that the U.S.S. Iowa, a World War II battleship, will make a permanent home in San Pedro. The ship is projected to draw 400,000 visitors a year.
In addition, Marymount College in Palos Verdes announced this summer that it will expand its San Pedro facilities, renting office and classroom space downtown and building a 400-student dormitory.
“There’s so much stuff going on there,” Knatz said. “We’re approaching that critical mass.”