I still remember graduating from San Pedro High School back in 1983. It was a clear and warm day as we walked onto the original high school field. Back then the football field ran east to west as opposed to the current north to south setup. We were the Utopian’s as our painted sign proudly hung on the outfield fence. Our cap and gowns were a flashy gray with a burgundy tassel and the excitement of this milestone was in the air, not only on the field with the candidates, but in the bleachers filled with family and friends. As Student Body President, I had the honor of welcoming everyone to the ceremony, made a brief speech on the importance of this day, and enjoyed the rest of the ceremony. Thirty years ago seems like yesterday as time has truly flown by.
Having been involved in planning the SPHS Class of ‘83 20th and 25th year class reunions the time seemed right to combine class reunions for our 30th. I thought whom better to approach with this idea than my friend and SPHS teacher Kathy Carcamo (class of ’85)? Always the optimist, Kathy and I have stayed friends since high school and when approached with the idea she not only liked it, but thought the whole decade should be invited, and coined the phrase “Totally 80’s Reunion.” Although the phrase sounded like a valley girl expression from the 80s, it worked. I then proposed we engage the San Pedro Pirate Boosters to help with membership and scholarship fundraising efforts, so we did.
The San Pedro Pirate Boosters were incorporated as a nonprofit in 1958, but actually started supporting student athletes under the leadership of Matty Domancich and Bill Seixas in 1954 and is one of the oldest booster clubs in all of L.A. Unified School District. Next year, the boosters are preparing to celebrate their 60th anniversary. Currently lead by Pirate Boosters President, Leonard Miller, the club has seen memberships go from a 71-member organization two years ago to 376 today. This success is attributed to the commitment and hard work of the Pirate booster new leadership team like Guy Spinosa, Noe Lopez and Joe Domicoli, longtime members Jerry Lovarov, Larry Robertson, Leon Carr and Rick Trujillo. Other key contributors to this success are John Fiorenza, Kathy Carcamo, and Stacey Soto. This is the core of the “Pirate-for-Life” theme that continues to transform the traditional Pirate Booster club into a forward-looking group with a vision to bring home Pirate Alumni and build a Pirate network that is unparalleled by any other in the Harbor Area.
An example of this transformation is the boosters’ goal to break 500 members this year and surpass 1,000 by 2015. Most importantly is the focus and emphasis on building the Pirate Booster Scholarships annual fund. In the past, 2012 seniors received scholarships from a $1,000 budget, whereas 2013 seniors received scholarships from a $4,000 budget. The 2013 scholarships were presented at a dinner for the first time in front of family and friends at the San Pedro Fish Market. The goal now is to double the fund each year through membership and fundraising so more and more scholarships can be presented to students at the annual San Pedro Pirate Booster Scholarship dinner event. The proceeds from the Totally 80’s Reunion will not only support the scholarship fund but also provide reunion attendees an introductory membership to the San Pedro Pirate Boosters.
The Totally 80’s Reunion is scheduled for October 12 and will start at 6:30 p.m. at the San Pedro Elks Lodge. Music will be provided by DJ Scott Martin, an 80s favorite and Pirate alumni. Tickets are $40 each and can be purchased online at www.sanpedropirateboosters.com. Please purchase tickets ahead of time and spread the word. Our goal is to sellout the event before the Oct. 12. If the event has not sold out, tickets will be available at the door. I look forward to seeing all of you at this great event for a great cause to provide scholarship funding for our future Pirate Alumni. spt
It wasn’t that long ago when Downtown Los Angeles was still trying to find its way. Before Staples Center, before L.A. Live, before the lofts, the new restaurants and the Nokia Theater, Downtown Los Angeles was suffering. There were even news reports on all the vacancies in the skyscrapers. It wasn’t a pretty picture. Cut to today and what do we see? A vibrant, urban environment, constantly busy, offering world-class entertainment and top-notch restaurants in a fun and safe atmosphere with plenty of parking. Concerts, sports, special events all seem to happen in Downtown L.A. these days.
Redevelopment is happening across Southern California. Look at Hollywood Blvd. with the Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theatre and the top of the line retail shops, and Old Town Pasadena with the same type of revitalization. It was only a matter of time before our waterfront became a top priority for redevelopment.
Earlier this year, Wayne Ratkovich of The Ratkovich Company, and Alan and Eric Johnson of Jerico Development, known collectively as the L.A. Waterfront Alliance, were awarded the opportunity by the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commission to redevelop the current Ports O’ Call location. It’s a much needed yet daunting task as Ports O’ Call has fallen under hard times in recent years. Weekend crowds still fill the San Pedro Fish Market, but weekday traffic across the village is minimal. Most everyone in San Pedro will agree that it’s in dire need of redevelopment.
San Pedro Today caught up with Ratkovich and Alan Johnson (his brother Eric was unavailable) at The Ratkovich Company office in Downtown Los Angeles to discuss their “world-class” plans for the waterfront, their vision for the future, and what San Pedro can expect in the coming years.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length
San Pedro Today: Why did Jerico Development want to get involved with the Ports O’ Call redevelopment project in the first place and why did The Ratkovich Company want to join in? What was the genesis behind it?
Alan Johnson: As you know, the talk was that Ports O’ Call was going to be redeveloped and there was a lot of interest in town. We were approached by several people about doing it and well, you know, that’s not our thing. We do our own stuff. [Jerico] didn’t have the wherewithal to take on that big of a project. Then [someone asked], “Would you like to meet Wayne Ratkovich?” And I said absolutely! I’ve followed Wayne and his career for quite a while. I personally wasn’t going to miss the chance to meet Wayne. And the prospect of actually doing something together was just beyond even thinking about.
Wayne Ratkovich: That’s how it all began. We were introduced to one another. I don’t think [The Ratkovich Company] would have taken on the project if we didn’t have someone like Eric and Alan locally that would be part of the development. We needed to have somebody with a local presence. If we didn’t have that, I don’t think we would have put our hat in the ring. When we met, it seemed like we’d probably get along okay together. We shared a common culture in many ways. We also share the fact that this is very important for the City of Los Angeles and for San Pedro. This is important stuff. Alan and Eric have waited a long time to see this property improved and we saw it as an opportunity to fulfill our mission, our development company’s mission, which is to ‘profitably produce developments that improve the quality of urban life.’
SPT: What’s your opinion of Ports O’Call in its current state today?
Johnson: It needs a lot of help. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. There is an opportunity to do something much better than what is there. Keep much of the good, but give it a new life.
SPT: There is concern from the community that a place like the San Pedro Fish Market, which is a San Pedro institution, might become a victim of the redevelopment. What’s your mindset going into what will stay and what will go?
Ratkovich: We have to look at what we think belongs there. It must draw, and draw not only from the San Pedro community, but it must draw from the region. We got to have something that has a magnetic force to it. As we go through all of that process of trying to figure out what that is, it would be downright foolish to toss away existing success stories. We can’t guarantee anything at this point, but common sense says you want to keep what is already producing good revenue and doing good business as you build more to it. I think that’s the framework we have.
SPT: At the first public meeting at the Warner Grand, you gave a fairly lengthy presentation prior to the public comment of all the other harbor locations across the world; other ports and harbors that are on a much bigger scale than what is currently there now. Is that the mindset going into this project? Something that big and grand?
Johnson: Yes. Big. We have all talked about big. In a city like Los Angeles, with all the other world-class top attractions, I think it only makes sense. I think Ports O’Call deserves it. I think it’s fitting there. It’s L.A.’s waterfront. There are a lot of factors that say it should be big.
Ratkovich: We’re not looking at this from the standpoint of wanting to do big things just because we want do big things. We’re not measuring this in square footage. We’re saying if this is going to be successful, you can’t think small. It just won’t work. You’ve got to think big. You got to draw a big picture. You have to have a big attraction. You have to induce a lot of enthusiasm, because there’s not much enthusiasm right now. There’s not much hope. So we want to reverse that.
SPT: I know you’re still in the early stages, but what have you come across as the biggest challenges so far with this redevelopment plan?
Ratkovich: We’re early, but so far everything’s going really well. If we have a challenge right now, it’s convincing the San Pedro community to be patient, because they are anxious to have something happen. And in this day and age, I wish things happened faster than they do. But it takes more time than most people think. That’s why I’ve tried to convince the world that developers are entitled to two lives instead of one, because everything takes so damn long. (laughs) Right now that’s probably the one thing that concerns us the most – keeping the support of the community. I think we got a lot of support in that first meeting and we want to keep it, but we can’t expect people who are not in our business to understand why it does take so long. Also, we’re really happy that our work with the Port has been like a partnership, which you don’t expect very often when you’re dealing with a government agency.
Johnson: The port has so much planned down there and there are so many things that have to be done just right. There is going to be a couple billion dollars spent down there between AltaSea, Ports O’Call, the infrastructure… And I tell you what, there won’t be $2 billion spent there five years from now. Everything has to be laid out and understood and made to work. The challenges… certainly one is moving people along Harbor Blvd. How is that going to happen? The worst thing you’d have is this phenomenally successful development, you know, it’s not a disaster, it’s phenomenal, but it’s like a people explosion! Take what you see there now on Mother’s Day or any holiday weekend, we’re going to quadruple that. Those are the numbers that are going to happen. So how do we do that? It’s building the infrastructures. The port’s very open to it and I think we’re making good progress talking about this. We’ve had some very productive meetings and I think if there’s a roadblock, I haven’t seen it yet. It’s just time.
SPT: Let’s talk about funding, since you started dropping some numbers here. Where are the funds coming from to put this development together? Have you worked out a budget of what it’s going to cost?
Ratkovich: No, we haven’t, too soon for that. Our job is to create a scenario that will attract capital. So we first have to create that scenario. We have to put together the ingredients that are necessary to attract the capital. That means some pre-commitments from tenants. Perhaps existing ones, perhaps new ones. That all has to come together, and that’s our job. If we get the ingredients that will produce revenue, then we’ll get the financing.
SPT: So to be clear, that’s the current stage you are in right now? Putting the ingredients together to get that financing? Are you confident you’ll achieve that goal?
Ratkovich: That’s correct. We feel confident that there is a lot of capital available for investment. Our job is to create the scenario that attracts that capital. It’s complicated by the fact that this is ground lease property that makes financing more challenging. It’s certainly not impossible; it just makes it more challenging. It limits the number of investors or lenders. It changes the terms. Makes it a little less attractive. Interest rates are a little higher, terms a little shorter. That kind of thing. But it’s not impossible.
SPT: As far as tenant commitments go, what’s been the general response?
Johnson: Existing or new?
Johnson: We’ve got some very interesting prospects.
Ratkovich: We do. We brought in the National Real Estate group from Commercial Real Estate Services (CBRE) to work with us. And while we don’t have anything in writing from anybody yet, we do have pretty positive expectations about what they think they can do, who the brokers think they can bring in. And that’s good, because if we didn’t have that, we might as well fold tent right now. So we’re very optimistic about the possibilities.
Johnson: Regarding the current businesses there now, the Port has set it up in such a way that all the current leases end in December 2014. That’s how they tend to deliver the space. But as Wayne said earlier, you’d be pretty foolish not to take advantage of what is working down there and those old connections.
SPT: There’s been an issue with the name change, because you’ve already gone public that the Ports O’ Call name will be retired. Why the idea for the name change? And do you have a list of new names you’re considering?
Ratkovich: I’m the one who said I thought there should be a name change, and I do believe that. We don’t have a new name yet. There’s just too many negatives associated with “Ports O’Call.” If you’re going to reach out to an entire region, as well as the local community, I think you need to say this is a whole new thing happening. [My company] has restored 17 historic buildings in the City of L.A. I have great respect for history. But to me, it’s the history of San Pedro – not the history of Ports O’Call.
Johnson: If you see what happened over time, the Fish Market was Norm’s Landing, and it was a fish market and it had nothing to do with Ports O’ Call. Ports O’ Call has just come to mean that whole [area], but it’s really not. I remember seeing this old picture, some old weekend and the crowd in the parking lot was all around Ports O’ Call in the village, very little around the fish market. But what a transformation from now, where it’s just completely flipped! I think there are very fond memories of Ports O’Call, but it’s the Ports O’ Call that people remember back in the day.
I think the promise this redevelopment holds is the ability to bring down those people in San Pedro that refuse to go down there. Bring them through downtown; see that downtown’s nice. With a town of 90,000 people like San Pedro, you really shouldn’t need to leave town to buy all your stuff like you have to do now. We have enough retail space in downtown and throughout town on Gaffey and Pacific and all of these places that if they rediscover the waterfront and they rediscover downtown, there’s plenty of retail space for every use that is necessary and needed for them if they come back, if they support it. You’re not just bringing tourists back, you’re bringing the town back, then all of a sudden you serve their needs on those streets and you just let the market figure it out. There’s a whole effort to make that connection between downtown and the waterfront and I think that is a really key thing. It’s important to us and it’s important to the development of the town because there’s a big disconnect now.
SPT: Finally, when this project comes to fruition and you guys are ready to get the proposal out in front of the public and show the designs and we see pictures of what could be, what can you tell San Pedro to expect?
Johnson: We really want to be measured against the waterfronts of the world. We have world-class developers working on it. So to me, I think nothing short of that. I think we’ll see a very efficient way to get people off the freeway and move them through to Ports O’ Call, but then we move them through to Alta Sea, we move them to the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, we move them along our waterfront so they really have this full day in San Pedro. With tourism being the number one industry in L.A. right now, it just happens to be really good for us. We have a lot of wind in our sails, a lot of community support and so I think things really seem lined up, I know we’re going to hit bumps. I don’t want to have this become a burden on our town, a “what did we wish for?” scenario. It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. And we’re going to work our asses off that it’s not that way.
Ratkovich: The time has come for the waterfront and downtown San Pedro to be what it really should be. Something that’s really wonderful and unique and that all the citizens can share. That’s sort of a vague and broad description of what we hope to get, but that’s what it’s going to be and it should be something that not only is successful in its own right, but it contributes to the success of downtown San Pedro and to the living environment – a whole urban complex – that’s down there today. spt
When I was seven-years-old, I spent the summer going to work with my dad, Henry Ungaro, where I shoveled ice, packed fillets and learned how to smoke fish like halibut and salmon. I also learned a great deal about hard work that year and decided it was best to spend the following four summers of my youth riding my bike and playing with friends instead. Good thing I did, because at age 12 I had no choice but to return to work with my father.
It was Good Friday, 1982, when the San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant finally opened its doors after a seemingly endless year of round-the-clock construction. My brother John was 10 and I was 12 when it became our job to set up the dining room for Auntie Carol on Sunday mornings, then help Dad set up the smoked fish display in the showcase before spending the rest of the day scaling and gutting fish, steaming crabs and washing down floors.
It was cold, wet and dirty, but we were able to spend time with our dad, which was rare as he and his partner Tommy Amalfitano had been working seven days a week to not only open the doors of the new business, but keep them open.
Working at the Fish Market has always been a family affair for the Ungaro and Amalfitano families. In 1957, my grandfather, Mackey Ungaro, put his son Henry and best friend Tommy to work at his storefront located at the corner of 9th St. and Meyler. They were only 15-years-old and the business was called Vista Seafood. Eventually, they moved the operation down to the waterfront as Norm’s Landing where Tommy’s mother, Mary, and his sister, Rosemarie, joined in.
Sooner or later, everyone found him or herself behind the counter or in the dining room, including Tommy Jr. and Tiffany, my brother Henry, sister Jennifer, Auntie Betty, Grandpa Mickey and many others.
It’s been over a half century since we started and here’s a short list of the accomplishments we are proud to share with the community of San Pedro:
We are the largest Fish Market/Restaurant in Southern California with seating for 2,000 and over 10,000 visitors a weekend.
We draw seafood lovers from all over the country, from every walk of life and every demographic. Take a look at our Facebook, Yelp and YouTube pages and see for yourself.
We co-host the World’s Largest Lobster Festival drawing tens of thousands of visitors to San Pedro every year since 1999.
We’ve been awarded a Guinness World Record for our work on the Lobster Festival.
We were privileged to host Grammy Award-winner Mumford & Sons on their Railroad Revival Tour, which also drew thousands into San Pedro.
We employ over 100 local residents with starting pay well above minimum wage while also offering healthcare, 401k and paid vacations.
For hundreds of local kids, San Pedro Fish Market was their first job. Many have come back to thank us for the invaluable lessons of hard work and responsibility that carried them into successful careers as doctors, teachers, nurses, attorneys, accountants, longshoremen, police officers, POLA workers and even as an L.A. City Councilman.
We support many local organizations in San Pedro, including the Boys and Girls Club, Mary Star, Holy Trinity and POLA High School.
We are moving to make San Pedro nationally synonymous with fine seafood by launching our World Famous Shrimp Trays into retail stores. As of Feb 1, 2013, San Pedro Fish can be found in over 400 grocery stores across four states.
We have always been very modest about our accomplishments and charitable contributions, preferring to remain anonymous without seeking acknowledgment. However, I now believe it’s important for the community to know what we’ve done. Not because we need a pat on the back or a thank you, but rather because so many of our family members are no longer here to tell these stories…and they need to be told.
There are many desperate to make changes to the waterfront, to improve it, to make it a world destination. We’ve been working on that for 55 years and welcome the help. spt
Michael Ungaro is the COO of San Pedro Fish Market Enterprises, Inc.
The San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant is located at Ports O’ Call Village (1190 Nagoya Way). For more info, visit www.SanPedroFish.com or find them on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter.
I know it sounds cliché, but where did the year go? As I reset my clock it seems like just yesterday I was turning it forward and getting ready for summer. Now the holidays are in full swing and before you know it will be summer again.
We have much to be thankful for during this holiday season in San Pedro and I would need more than just this column to describe all that is good with our town. It’s rare to find such a place like San Pedro with love and pride that goes well beyond words; it’s an emotion that flows through our veins.
On many occasions, I get asked about three particular subjects that spur emotion: Ports O’ Call, Ponte Vista and the Rancho San Pedro public housing projects. The future of the first two appears to have a tangible outcome whereas the third is uncertain. Ponte Vista with its new plans for a smaller foot print and adjusted turn lanes to mitigate traffic on Western may yield support from the original massive planned development once proposed, and the process held by the Port of Los Angeles to solicit a developer for much needed change at Port’s O’ Call is well underway.
Ports O’ Call development is the moment San Pedro has been waiting for and by the end of this year eight prospective developers will be whittled down to one to determine its future. Today, although the parking lots are packed every weekend at Ports O’ Call, it is rare that you will find many locals there unless a wedding or baby shower is being held. Since the taking down of the space needle to the closure of many of the small businesses that truly made Port’s O’ Call the place to be back in the 60s and 70s, the very mention of it is always followed with fond memories and a cautious optimism about its future. As I see it, it’s time to create a new Port’s O’ Call that will not only provide new memories for our generation, but for our children and grandchildren’s generation, as well. So the real question is what will make locals and tourists alike want to go to Ports O’ Call on any given day of the week?
A new Port’s O’ Call must reflect who we are locally and where we have come from internationally. It must incorporate ideas from successful developments that attract us throughout the year such as L.A. Live, The Grove, Third Street Promenade and The Block, to name a few. I believe anchor establishments such as a Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, BJ’s and Starbucks tied in with our historic Fish Market, Ports O’ Call Restaurant, Acapulco Restaurant and other successful establishments that have kept Ports O’ Call alive is the recipe for success. An added attraction like a concert hall should be considered as well as a convention center. Today, many of our local non-profits have to hold their annual fundraisers in Manhattan Beach, Torrance and Long Beach because San Pedro does not have a facility that can accommodate over 500 guests. A convention center that can accommodate such events must be part of the plan. In a nutshell, Port’s O’ Call must have the very amenities we seek in other cities in order to draw locals and tourists everyday of the week.
We must continue the momentum of moving our waterfront and town forward. We have seen the recent arrival of the USS Iowa and Crafted, Marymount College establishing roots on 6th street, downtown San Pedro being infused with new events and street lighting by the PBID, a marine research center in the works for City Dock #1, new schools have been built and much more is on the horizon. San Pedro is truly on the rise.
Our time has come to transition Port’s O’ Call into something that we can once again be proud of and transform it into an international attraction once again. The development of Ports O’ Call is the true catalyst that will breathe real life into our waterfront development efforts for generations to come. spt