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Published on April 5th, 2013 | by RLn Staff

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Public and Developers in Synch On Vision for Ports O’Call Redevelopment

Wayne Ratkovich of the Ratkovich Company introducing the L.A. Waterfront Alliance plans for Ports O’Call Village at the Warner Grand. Photo by Terelle Jerricks

By Paul Rosenberg,
Senior Editor

Planning for the Ports O’Call redevelopment project got strong and repeated indications of public support in a meeting held by the developers, the LA Waterfront Alliance, at the Warner Grand Theater on April 2.

With an audience of several hundred people, applause punctuated the presentation portion of the community meeting, underscoring key points of support, while the public comments almost entirely harmonized with the presentation itself. Wayne Ratkovich, whose company, The Ratkovich Company, is one half of the Alliance partnership, acknowledged the turnout in his remarks thanking the audience for their participation.

“As one who has been before a number of public gatherings, this is an extraordinary number of people to attend an event like this,” Ratkovich said.

To wide applause, Eric Johnson, representing the other half of the Alliance partnership as President of Jerico Development, put his finger on what was different from previous community meetings.

“Unlike prior planning and outreach meetings, this meeting has been convened to initiate the development of a specific project, not the commencement of yet another round of planning,” Johnson said. Like much that followed, it was a statement those attending seemed hungry to hear.

Ratkovich set the tone with a quick review of four major projects he selected to represent his company’s work, starting with the Wiltern Theater. The projects “had all been literally or virtually abandoned by their former owners,” Ratkovich said, “ We were able to bring them back to life in a successful manner. That is what we proudly do.”

“The Ports O’ Call site enables us and our company to serve its mission and to serve its city,” he continued, noting that, “Thanks to a group of talented and successful merchants, the Ports O’ Call site has not been as abandoned as the properties we’ve shown you,” but still promising to build “a far brighter future” at the site.

Johnson’s presentation was conceptual, highlighting the precedents laid down by the two previous Urban Land Institute studies, and citing a series of guideline priorities, including: increase public access, maintain community character and build on local history, promote a safe and clean environment, feature port activities, support local businesses, increase economic activity, and expand public parks and recreation.

“We are thinking big,” he said, promising a “complete re-imaging and re-branding,” and going on to say, that in addition to historical and infrastructure connections, “We will also strive to create an emotional connection to the region as LA’s waterfront, a must-see attraction for anyone visiting LA.”

“We envision creating a unique and authentic experience, not dominated by national retailers or restaurant chains, not something which could be created or found anywhere else,” Johnson went on to say, greeted again by an outburst of applause. “We all know San Pedro is one of a kind and that’s not going to change.”

The last major part of the presentation was a visual tour of other waterfronts around the world, “aspirational images” as they were dubbed by presenter Vaughn Davies, familiar to San Pedrans from the EKG conceptual planning process conducted nine years ago.

“It’s important to know what the rest of the world is doing so that we can differentiate ourselves,,” Davies said, at the start of his presentation, while toward the end, he segued from pictures of other working ports to conclude, “What we don’t want to do is tidy up San Pedro. It’s kind of nice to have this gritty little urban waterfront in downtown San Pedro,” another big applause line.

“They are first and foremost working waterfronts and they are for the locals who love them and then the tourists come,” Davies said. “That’s the success story that you should think about. What would you love, because if you embrace it, the others will come.”

“There’s well-seasoned ideas out there, that’s for sure,” Johnson’s brother Alan, Jerico’s CEO told Random Lengths before the meeting, saying, “The bulk of the meeting would be devoted to listening and answering questions and giving folks a chance to weigh in on what they want to see there.” But the team had done such a good job that most comments either offered minor additions or else raised general question—such as public safety/crime and traffic flow/access concerns—which the team answered in a manner that showed considerable forethought had already been given.

“I brought in a whole list of things,” said Louis Dominguez, “and I can’t tell you how delighted I am that most of the stuff I have here, you’ve already talked about.”

The one subject that attracted multiple related comments was what to do with proposed parking along the bluffs. Tony Jabuka, who owns the Bike Palace, had the most ambitious, visionary suggestion, “Don’t stop at the height of harbor blvd. bring it two stories higher, and bring it all the way to the height of plaza park,” Jabuka said, adding that Harbor Blvd. should be converted into a tunnel, with a park on top from 8th to 14th Streets.

Beyond that, Allyson Vought, Communications Officer of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council suggested, “a water taxi to get you guys connected to Long Beach;” John Stenson President of the San Pedro Art Association said, “What we really need down there is something akin to an art center… a place for education, for demonstrations, for workshops;” and POLA High School teacher Rachel Brunke stressed the need to “mitigate, mitigate, mitigate” with respect to global warming, saying, “Let’s employ people to plant trees . Let’s be real creative and involved. Let’s make the process of this as exciting as the result.”

The one subject that attracted multiple related comments was what to do with proposed parking along the bluffs. Tony Jabuka, who owns the Bike Palace, had the most ambirious, visionary suggestion, “Don’t stop at the height of harbor blvd. bring it two stories higher, and bring it all the way to the height of plaza park,” Jabuka said, adding that Harbor Blvd. should be converted into a tunnel, with a park on top from 8th to 14th streets, something desperately needed in a particularly park-poor part of San Pedro. Of course it would be attractive to kids, and, Jabuka pointed out, “If you bring the kids, you bring the parents.”

After the meeting, Sue Castillo, Chair of the Central San Pedro Land Use Planning Committee, summed up. “What I saw tonight was that the developers themselves were telling us what we had been telling them, that we’ve been telling the port for the past ten years, probably, and I feel like we’re all rowing in the same direction right now.”

According to Alan Johnson, what comes next is “We get to work with designers and consultants, and the brokerage community, and the financing community, and we start to work on ideas and concepts.” He said that the second meeting, hopefully in four to five months time, will see the presentation of those ideas.

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