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Port Of Los Angeles

LA harbor to become newest tourist destination

Sep 29, 2009

LOS ANGELES — The hulking container ships that ply the Port of Los Angeles already provide Southern California with a major source of revenue. Soon they could also provide the scenery for what port officials hope will be the region's newest tourist destination.

Harbor commissioners are set to vote Tuesday on the port's $1.2 billion plan to remake the jumbled strip of parking lots, seafood stalls and ramshackle marinas into a seaside promenade bookended by passenger wharfs that could host the world's biggest cruise ships.

Planners say the redevelopment would help sustain the gentrification of the adjacent community of San Pedro — where upscale bars and coffee shops share downtown streets with tattoo parlors that have inked generations of longshoremen — and diversify a maritime economy dominated by the shipping industry hit by the economic downturn.

"It gives the waterfront — a big section of the port — back to the people," said the port's executive director, Geraldine Knatz. "The view along our main channel, especially with ships coming in: it's majestic."

But some San Pedro residents say the new cruise ship terminal envisioned, seen at least partly as a gambit to make Disney Cruise Line a long-term tenant at the port, would spoil the scenery at the area's beach, which feels a world away from the nation's busiest port complex.

Others, meanwhile, wonder whether the industrial waterfront tableau of towering gantry cranes lifting containers off massive ships will be all that alluring to many visitors.

"It's a little bit of a hard sell," said Carl Winston, who directs San Diego State University's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and serves on the Port of San Diego's cruise industry advisory committee. "Are you going to take a date and say, 'Hey look at the freighters, isn't that romantic?' Your date would not be very happy."

Officials intend to finance the renovations with about $900 million in port revenue and other public funds, with the rest coming from private developers.

The plan is the latest incarnation in a decade-long series of efforts to develop the port for walkers, bikers, diners and shoppers. The most recently scuttled version called for three hotels and a massive retail complex. It was dropped under pressure from activists in the nearby neighborhoods of modest single-story homes.

Backers hope the current scaled-down project, including eight miles of waterside walking paths that will meander from the soaring Vincent Thomas Bridge to the breakwater cradling part of Cabrillo Beach, will get the harbor commissioners' nod.

John Papadakis, who owns a popular Greek restaurant in downtown San Pedro, said he supports the plan because it will offer residents of the nearby working communities, as well as tourists visiting Southern California, a place to enjoy the outdoors. He said it will also create thousands of job opportunities during the project's construction and operation.

"We've been underdeveloped for years and the only chance to broaden our job base is to create a great attraction. It's the key to our future," Papadakis said.

Ships enter the Port of Los Angeles' main channel through its mouth at the southern tip of the Palos Verdes Peninsula and navigate toward the heart of the complex along a waterfront where tank farms and other eyesores break up the picturesque marinas and fishing piers that line the shore.

On the opposite side is the start of the port's container terminal, an island stacked with metal boxes of cargo that stretch for miles into the inner harbor, where huge ships linger below cranes that resemble the skeletons of giant dinosaurs.

Under the port's plan, the tanks and other unsightly elements would be removed from the waterfront to make way for the parks, fountains and other attractions along the harborside footpath.

The plan also calls for the complete redevelopment of Ports O' Call, a complex of now-rundown restaurants and food stalls built in the mid-1960s during the port's last major effort to tempt visitors to the harbor.

The plan's most controversial element is the proposed construction of a so-called Outer Harbor cruise ship terminal on a pier beside Cabrillo Beach, a quiet sandy strip popular with kayakers and windsurfers within the breakwater that protects the harbor.

Neighbors are opposed to that part of the plan because the 1,400 foot-long cruise ships using the facility would block views of the ocean and impede boaters using marinas near the beach.

"In 50 years, when people look back at this moment, they will see a city that preserved this recreational and environmental space for the millions of people who use and love it," said Peter Warren, a member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council. "Or they'll see a city that dedicated it to the cruise industry that could be better served elsewhere in the same harbor."

Harbor officials say the cruise ships will only visit the terminal a few hours each week and insist the development is necessary if Los Angeles is to meet the cruise industry's demands, since the berths in the existing terminal up the channel are too small to simultaneously hold more than two of the large ships that operators are trending toward.

If the port doesn't make space for the larger ships, cruise operators will take their business to other cities, such as San Diego and San Francisco where larger terminals are being built, Knatz said.

The Port of Los Angeles recently inked a two-year deal with Disney Cruise Line that makes Los Angeles its West Coast homeport starting in 2011. Under the arrangement, Disney has an option of extending its stay for an additional three years.

Knatz said she believes the Outer Harbor's development is key to having Disney remain at the port.

Disney Cruise Line spokeswoman Christi Erwin Donnan declined to comment.

But Knatz said Disney officials who visited the port recently were enthusiastic about the prospect of departing from a beach-side Outer Terminal, which also offers views of coastal cliffs and home-covered slopes.

LA harbor to become newest tourist destination
Port of Los Angeles / Image via

Source: AP

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