The Long Beach City Council unanimously approved a visioning process to revitalize the downtown shoreline area on October 22, citing more opportunities for downtown development and a strong interest in the area due to the city’s participation in the 2028 Summer Olympics.
This visioning effort is designed to provide the framework for a Downtown Shoreline Specific Plan, which will examine how resources could be used to enhance the Downtown Shoreline Planned Development District (PD-6). The area includes Rainbow Harbor, Rainbow Lagoon, Catalina Landing, the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, a marina and more. “Updating our plans around the city has been a priority,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said during the council meeting. “PD-6 is a critical piece of our infrastructure, of our economy and our area.”
In her presentation to the Long Beach City Council, Linda Tatum, director of Long Beach Development Services, said the visioning process would be led by development services staff with support from the city’s economic development team.
The Downtown Shoreline Visioning Process is expected to take 18 months, beginning in January 2020, Tatum said. Before the process begins, city staff must create a project outline and present it to the Long Beach City Council some time in December. Upon approval, a consultant for the visioning process – who will guide and work with city staff – will be selected in January. Working groups will form in March, according to Tatum.
Long Beach Development Services will use $150,000 appropriated by the city council in the Tidelands Operations Fund Group, previously known as the Tidelands Operating Fund, and $100,000 in economic development funds from the same budget for the visioning process, according to Rick de la Torre, development services community information officer.
The City of Long Beach first adopted PD-6 in the 1980s, per Tatum’s presentation. Garcia first announced plans for this visioning process during his presentation at the 2018 Building a Better Long Beach event, which is sponsored by the Business Journal.
A similar process was conducted for the Downtown Plan (PD-30) when it was adopted by the city council in January 2012. City officials said the Downtown Plan has served as a catalyst in the area’s ongoing development and revitalization.
Tatum attributed that plan’s success to the visioning process that was conducted prior to its implementation. Communicating with residents and stakeholders allowed for a smooth process, she added.
“We look forward to engaging the community, resident groups, business groups, property owners [and] waterfront interests to make sure that we establish some kind of consensus about how we can best invest in that area and capitalize and have a [Downtown Shoreline Specific Plan] in place by the time 2028 rolls around [for] the Olympics here in Long Beach,” Tatum said.
Area stakeholders expressed their approval of revitalizing the Downtown Long Beach shoreline. Jerry Schubel, president and CEO of the Aquarium of the Pacific, called PD-6 the city’s “most valuable real estate” and noted that some of it still remains to be developed. In terms of how the city could best attract tourism and business, Schubel said it starts with the ocean.
“We have this wonderful city on an urban ocean, where lots of people make diverse uses and intense uses of the ocean,” he said. “It’s really important to the city’s future. You have to look at water-dependent uses first. . . . I think with that as a filter, it helps you narrow what’s the best long-term use. You also have to look at it through the filter of sea-level rise and what that’s going to do to our waterfront areas.”
Schubel believes the Aquarium of the Pacific will be a major component of the area’s revitalization. Touting the Aquarium as the city’s largest attraction, Schubel said the facility is averaging about 1.7 million visitors per year. “It has become a cultural hub for Downtown Long Beach,” he said. “And as the population of the downtown area grows, those larger numbers of people will be looking for things to do in the evening.”
Debra Fixen, property manager of Shoreline Village, said she and her team are encouraged by the city’s approach to examining the future of the area. “The downtown has had many changes since the zoning was established,” she said. “We have increased the residential community [and] increased tourism, and we are a more vibrant business community. So, it stands to reason that the waterfront ‘as is’ does not reflect the current highest and best use.”
Fixen said property along the waterfront holds a tremendous value for the community and should be properly maximized for the best financial return and interests of residents and business owners. In order to accomplish this, Fixen said the city needs to look how the area’s program spaces, such as Rainbow Lagoon and the Elephant Lot, are being used, noting how these spaces in the district are vacant most of year. The Elephant Lot is a 13-acre parking lot at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center.
In response to how the city could best use its resources to improve PD-6, Charlie Beirne, general manager of the convention center, said it was too early to say. However, he emphasized the importance of involving all stakeholders and community members in the visioning process to garner all perspectives about the site’s future. “I am certainly behind the city’s visioning process here,” he said. “And anything we can assist with or work with the city for economic development for the benefit of the community, we’re all for 100%.”