Port Promenade

Port Promenade

The promenade will borrow design cues from San Pedro’s maritime industrial history.
Courtesy EDAW

A surreal area long dominated by towering steel shipping facilities may be about to get a friendlier, more community-oriented focus. The Los Angeles Harbor Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in October released the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for their San Pedro Waterfront plan. The 400-acre project is set to replace the Port of Los Angeles’ now-relocated industrial ports and docklands along the west side of Los Angeles Harbor’s Main Channel with a new promenade, bike paths, park spaces, commercial spaces, and cruise ship facilities.

Following a public review phase that ends on December 8, the plan would take about five to seven years to complete. Groundbreaking is set for summer 2010. LA-based Tetra Design is coordinating the project. EDAW’s LA and San Francisco offices are developing the master plan, landscaping, and urban design. And Oakland-based Hood Design and Pasadena-based Cityworks are assisting with landscape and urban design. Costs are still being estimated, but the port is setting aside $60 million for the project. The port said the scheme would help revitalize San Pedro in addition to providing much-needed recreation opportunities. According to estimates provided by the port, the plan would provide over 1,000 new jobs, about $38 million in new wages, and about $30.8 million in passenger spending.

The plan’s waterfront promenade would include an 8-mile-long, 30-foot-wide pedestrian path stretching from the Cabrillo Bath House at the south end to the Vincent Thomas Bridge to the north. The plan also proposes two new harbors—the 75,000-square-foot Downtown Harbor, and the slightly smaller 7th Street Harbor—to accommodate visiting cruise ships and other vessels. Among the plan’s several (and interconnected) new public parks would be the Town Square, at the foot of San Pedro’s Sixth Street; the 7th Street Landing, adjacent to the new 7th Street Harbor; and an 18-acre central park that would include an amphitheater seating up to 3,000 people. The area’s existing ports of call would be enhanced with 375,000 square feet of complementary development including commercial, retail, and restaurant uses. Finally, the plan calls for two new two-story, 200,000-square-foot cruise ship terminals along the area’s outer harbor.

While architectural choices have yet to be made (schematic design begins in January), EDAW says the plan will focus all uses on the water, with a continuous waterfront and various districts within this stretch merging the public realm with the area’s already-existing waterfront activities. Part of that, pointed out Sacha Schwarzkopf, senior urban designer for EDAW, is drawing on the existing drama that the channel presents.

"One of the things that San Pedro has to offer is that you can have ships at the curb," he said. "Cruise ships. Tall ships. Industrial ships. Having that sense of awe looking at them is a very unique experience." According to the EIR, plans would also draw for inspiration on the city’s "maritime industrial history" as well as on the unique character of San Pedro.

To help people get to all of these new facilities, the plan will include a series of transportation improvements, including the expansion of existing roadways; intersection, landscape, and parking improvements; extension of the Waterfront Red Car Line (which will run parallel to the promenade); and water taxi berthing facilities. And to protect the environment the plan pledges to use recycled water for landscaping; drought-tolerant plants; LEED certification for all buildings over 7,500 square feet; solar power; and pedestrian and bike connections throughout.

Yet to some in the area, these efforts are not enough. Local web site Curbed LA described the plan as a "Disneyesque happy land of shops, tourists, and cruise ships," and pointed to comments by June Burlingame Smith, who heads up a port advisory panel overseeing the waterfront planning. "The current plan is a ‘drive-by’ plan," she said. "Drive by the waterfront; drive by downtown San Pedro; drive by the museums, monuments, restaurants and shops, to get to a cruise ship where dreams of happiness will be found in faraway foreign playgrounds."

Schwarzkopf disagreed: "We’re not trying to make this themed. There wants to be a nice waterfront layer to it, but it has to feel real. San Pedro is about muscle and it’s about working ports that are right at your doorstep. It’s about honest, genuine development."