A Victory For Waterfront Development

On a Tuesday evening in September of 2009, I had the honor of spending a long evening together with many hundreds of San Pedrans, all passionate about the future of a town we love. We all crowded into a meeting room at Liberty Hill Plaza and stayed well past midnight for a Harbor Commission meeting on adopting a proposed development plan for our waterfront.

The 400-acre project was designed to give the community better access to the water – and it included a promenade that ran alongside the water’s edge, water cuts and downtown-adjacent boating slips, various pocket parks, fountains and plazas, an extended Red Car line, and several other public features that would create a great waterfront experience for locals and visitors alike. The plan passed unanimously.

This was not just a plan to beautify the area, but to aid regional economic development through the introduction of various new shopping, dining and convention facilities that would give Los Angeles a waterfront that could compare to places such as Baltimore, Seattle, and San Francisco. At its core, the plan created a pathway for the Port of Los Angeles to redevelop Ports O’ Call Village with 300,000 square feet now zoned for shops, restaurants, a convention hall and other establishments that would make our waterfront a regional attraction.

It was great, except for one glaring problem. We were smack dab in the middle of a recession and there were very few development projects being launched anywhere. I recall a sobering dinner during this period with a friend on the real estate board at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management who told me that he saw no chance of Ports O’ Call being redeveloped.

However, as the economy slowly started to rebound, the Port finally felt optimistic enough to put out a request for real estate groups to submit their qualifications to be chosen to negotiate the right to redevelop Ports O’ Call. Although the Port was optimistic, it was a cautious optimism – as one Port source told me, they realistically hoped for two or three groups to submit. However, much to their delight, the Port received eight bids.

Among the seven bids they reviewed (one group dropped out); the Port chose a group dubbed the Los Angeles Waterfront Alliance to earn the right of negotiating a development deal with them. In my opinion, it was a great choice.

The lead member of the group is real estate developer Wayne Ratkovich. I first became familiar with Ratkovich when I noticed his name on the Wiltern Center in the Mid-Wilshire neighborhood where I lived in the late ‘80s. I became interested because I automatically assumed that with his “ich” last name, he must share my Croatian heritage, but I later found out he was actually Serbian (can’t win them all).

Our ethnic differences aside, I experienced firsthand the positive effect of Ratkovich’s redevelopment of the Wiltern. It created a great place in my neighborhood to see a concert in a grand music venue, or eat dinner and have drinks in hip restaurant establishments. It became a must-visit destination for me and tons of my friends that lived and worked throughout Los Angeles and Hollywood.

I later learned that Ratkovich has a great reputation for redeveloping places that had seen better days, but doing so without losing the authenticity of what made those places special in the first place. I’m excited and can’t wait to see how he and his team will make Ports O’ Call new again while giving a nod to the heritage of our waterfront and community.

Ratkovich’s local partners on the project, the Johnson brothers, Eric and Alan, are also fantastic choices. Their company, Jerico Development owns several properties in downtown San Pedro that both retain historical authenticity and are well kept. Ask the business owners that occupy their buildings and you will learn that these are great guys that deeply care about our town and do their part to contribute to the shared success of the downtown community. For example, Alan’s wife, Liz, runs Grand Vision, the non-profit that played the lead role in the restoration and administration of the Warner Grand Theatre.

Congratulations to the Port and to the Los Angeles Waterfront Alliance. I, and all of San Pedro, can’t wait to see you make Ports O’ Call great again. spt

Jack Baric can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

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