Standing on the top floor of an old two-story tugboat dispatch tower, Eric Johnson gazes north overlooking the area of his company’s most ambitious project yet, the 42-acre, $150 million redevelopment of the former Ports O’ Call Village site along the L.A. Waterfront.
“We’re at mezzanine level here,” says Eric, referring to the tower’s second story. “Gives you a nice commanding view. It really shows you the scope and scale of this 42-acre behemoth.”
The tower has been converted to a scenic office and meeting space, complete with flat-screen TVs for presentations and plenty of snacks for visitors. Eric and his brother Alan, the men behind San Pedro-based Jerico Development, have been using it to introduce potential tenants to the newly christened West Harbor project, formerly known as the San Pedro Public Market.
“This is industrial theater,” Eric says, grinning as he points towards a container ship slowly entering the Port of Los Angeles. “It’s free. You can’t see this stuff anywhere else. And it’s also part of our mantra about being unique, authentic, and fun. We’re just embracing the authenticity of it all.”
The Johnson brothers are smiling these days and for good reason. In late August, the developers of West Harbor, a partnership between The Ratkovich Company and Jerico Development, announced the signing of seven anchor tenants, leaving one left to fill. It’s the first official signing of any tenants since the developers won the bid to take over the project in 2013. The 42-acre port property is entitled for more than 335,000 square feet of development over the term of a 66-year ground lease. With a focus on dining and entertainment, these first signings already account for 65 percent of the available leasing space.
“I think the leases really speak for themselves,” says Eric. “The progress of the project goes from leasing to us going out and getting secured debt, and then to us starting construction. But you can’t get secured debt until you’re pre-leased. We’re meeting our pre-leasing thresholds right now. We’ve signed 75,000 square feet of leases. The leases are 10, 15, and 20 years with options averaging 15.”
The seven anchor tenants announced are Mike Hess Brewing, Yamashiro, Poppy + Rose, Sugar Factory, Jay Bird’s Chicken, an unnamed Mexican cantina, and Hopscotch, an immersive art installation. West Harbor is slated to open in late 2023, with construction planned to begin early next year.
It’s been a long road for the Johnsons, who have been the local connection to this project since the beginning. Being a major stakeholder in town for decades, Jerico Development has a vested interest in the success of West Harbor. (Full disclosure: San Pedro Today’s office is in a Jerico-owned building.) Like many in the community, they also didn’t want to see the waterfront turn into another Grove or Irvine Spectrum. That’s one of the reasons why this slate of anchor tenants is so diverse and doesn’t resemble another cookie-cutter, L.A. outdoor mall.
“The anchors really drive everything else,” says Eric. “What we did differently this time was we started marketing the whole site rather than a building at a time. That resulted in us being about 65 percent leased.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also affected the planning, but for the better. The delays let the Port of L.A. finish new infrastructure improvements, including the completion of the promenade walkway and town square. This gave the developers a great visual representation of what the waterfront will look like in the future to potential tenants.
“[The pandemic] provided us the time and the space to do it, and also, all of a sudden outdoor space became super valuable,” says Eric. “So, we added [more] outdoor space. We re-drew, we redesigned with more outdoor space, and then we sat down with tenants — real tenants — and got their input, which hipped it up, made it cooler, I think, and fresher and younger.”
WHO’S MOVING IN?
San Pedro loves its craft beers. That’s why it’s no surprise that the San Diego-based Mike Hess Brewing was the first to sign on the dotted line for West Harbor. With plans for an 18,000 square foot, indoor-outdoor, dog-friendly biergarten right next to the highly anticipated amphitheater, weekends on the waterfront are going to be a lot different in 24 months. “This was by far the most coveted site,” says Eric. “When we looked at it just from a planning standpoint, this was the right fit.”
The idea to add mezzanines to several anchor buildings, including Mike Hess Brewing, was one of many changes made to the project since the developer’s last major design update in 2016.
“It’s a big format space; he’s got a mezzanine, and it’s going to have a catwalk where you walk between the fermenting barrels and the storage barrels,” says Eric. “You’re going to be up on the second floor with a big brewery downstairs and this giant biergarten outside.”
It’s worth noting that patrons will be able to carry alcoholic drinks outside throughout most of the West Harbor property. “Just as they do in Europe,” adds Eric.
Maybe the most surprising announcement was Yamashiro and Sugar Factory, both co-owned by film producer and real estate developer Elie Samaha. Yamashiro, the century-old Japanese-fusion restaurant in the Hollywood Hills, will open its second location along the waterfront where the San Pedro Fish Market currently resides.
“It’s iconic,” says Eric. “They like to have a view. This is only their second store, and they’ve chosen San Pedro.”
Sugar Factory is an over-the-top American brasserie and candy shop with locations all over the world. Frequented by celebrities and influencers, they’re known for their decadent drinks and desserts. “It’s this fun, kid, sugar-infused place during the day, then at night, it becomes this booze and sugar-fueled, trendy nightclub,” says Eric.
Poppy + Rose, the popular country-style breakfast and brunch spot in Downtown Los Angeles, will open a new location along the waterfront with a 2,000 square foot patio and active garden, where they’ll grow their own vegetables and herbs on-site.
“We wanted a killer brunch place,” says Eric. “They’re facing the parking lot, and they like that space because we can wrap the garden around it.”
“They’re also really philanthropic,” adds Alan. The restaurant is known for giving back to the community by supporting local hospitals, children’s organizations, and social justice causes.
Jay Bird’s Chicken brings some Nashville flair to the waterfront with their fast-casual hot chicken sandwiches. They have a few locations in Southern California, including Long Beach and Huntington Beach.
Hopscotch is an immersive and experiential 17,000 square foot art gallery that includes a restaurant and lounge area, plus an additional 2,000 square feet of outdoor space. According to their website, they “bring together artists in collaborative environments to create unique, impactful, and distinct shared experiences.”
The seventh lease is for an unnamed Mexican cantina from the same people behind Yamashiro and Sugar Factory.
In addition to the newly signed tenants, plans are still in the works for the much-anticipated amphitheater. The new design features a large open grass area that can be converted to a 4,500- or 6,200-seat venue, depending on the event. While no venue operator has been signed, talks continue with Nederlander Concerts, according to the Johnsons. Also, next to the amphitheater will be an area for weddings and special events.
Harbor Breeze Cruises, owned by Dan Salas, will be bringing his fleet of double-decker sightseeing ships to West Harbor, offering whale watching and dinner cruises.
The northernmost section, closest to the new Town Square (where Acapulco Restaurant used to be), will be the location of a new waterfront hotel, which will be included in Phase 3 of the project. But before that happens, that area will be filled with recreational activities, including a dog park, pickleball courts, and standing wave pools, among other family-friendly waterside attractions.
Plans are also in the works to move the Battleship Iowa to the southern portion of West Harbor to make room for a third cruise ship terminal.
And if you’re worried about parking (like every San Pedran is), there will be 2,000 parking spaces available, with plans for trolley/shuttle service between West Harbor and the downtown district.
BUT WHAT ABOUT…?
So many stories have been written about the Ports O’ Call site’s redevelopment that it would be pointless to rehash every previously announced plan that didn’t pan out. Although, there are a few omissions that are worth mentioning.
Notably absent from West Harbor is the San Pedro Fish Market, which recently announced it would be moving north near the Catalina Express terminal, with plans for a 5,500-seat restaurant and entertainment center.
There was also an announcement last October that Gladstone’s would be coming in as an anchor tenant, but those negotiations fell through earlier this year.
Also absent is the Trani family. Early rumors had the Tranis joining West Harbor, but instead, they decided to take over the old Canetti’s Seafood Grotto location in the former U.S. Immigration Station building off 22nd Street and will open Trani’s Dockside Station sometime next year.
With the announcement of signed anchor tenants, there’s a renewed energy in the Jerico offices these days. The Johnsons admit, so many factors could have derailed this project during the decade they’ve been working on it with The Ratkovich Company, but they never let that deter them from their goal of creating a world-class waterfront that San Pedro can be proud of.
“I can say we never gave up. We never let that kind of thinking get in,” says Alan. “This is a really important project for this community, [and this community] is really important to us. This is our community. That’s how we look at it. We had an obligation. We took on this battle. We knew it was going to be hard.”
Eric adds, “I think if you’re doing a 150,000 square foot ground-up, retail project, you’re climbing a mountain to begin with. We always had faith that the power of this site and our partnership [were] important, that we would be a survivor. We did go through having to tread water and keep it alive. But we never gave up, that’s for sure. You’ve got to be a little crazy to even start.” spt