There has yet to be a single double-play. No one has yet crossed home plate, nor has the first pitch been thrown. The idea of a new baseball stadium to house Major League Baseball’s Angels franchise remains only an idea, with city officials talking to the Anaheim-based team and studying plans on how to make a waterfront stadium project work, physically and financially.
But the proposal has sparked one topic of discussion that some argue is long overdue: Modernizing, improving and enhancing the city’s waterfront area and, by doing so, enhancing the city’s downtown.
Representatives of residential and commercial uses in the waterfront area and in the downtown region say that the area in question – the 13-acre lot near the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center – is one of the city’s greatest underutilized assets. And city officials have said in the past that the waterfront area needs more attention from the city to help drive its development and future.
Properly developed, they say, a stadium could generate benefits to the city and to the region that go beyond the national attention and direct monetary gains associated with attracting a major sports franchise to a city. The ancillary benefits – increased business activity in the surrounding regions, for one – are not small. And other communities have used stadium projects to drive related infrastructure improvements like public transportation.
“We need change. I think that it is a wasted resource,” says Debra Fixen, property manager at Shoreline Village, the waterfront shopping and dining entertainment center that overlooks the harbor near the site of the proposed stadium. “We need another thing for people to do, something to attract them here. That’s what is missing right now.”
There are no shortage of cities and local governments chasing the money associated with hosting major league sporting events. After decades of having no National Football League teams, the Los Angeles area now has two. The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is one of the most successful sports franchises in the world, attracting an international television audience, and is viewed as one of the most prestigious IndyCar races in the series.
Against that backdrop, when Long Beach and Angels officials confirmed that they were engaged in talks to build a new stadium on the waterfront area, the discussion centered around the finances and logistics of the development. But there are other impacts that are of no small interest to the hundreds of business owners and thousands of current and future residents who would live in the shadow of the new facility.
And there is a sense of hope that the discussion about a new stadium will highlight the need for revitalizing the waterfront region.
“I’m excited that the city is finally having a serious dialog about the highest and best use of that property. It’s remained undeveloped for a long time, and it could be put to better use for our city and our downtown,” says John Sangmeister, owner of Gladstone’s restaurant on the waterfront and a longtime advocate for new investment and development in the area.
“I just ask that the city be mindful of all the stakeholders and seek their input early in the process. I think the city has come to recognize that there are 150 businesses on the waterfront, and they are mindful of that. And it’s really appreciated,” Sangmeister says.
One of the key impacts on the area could be the opportunity to create a more cohesive, pedestrian-friendly environment linking the waterfront, the convention center complex and the downtown area. More destinations in the area would attract more visitors. Properly-developed walking-friendly thoroughfares create a sense of comfort that attract more visitors and customers to a region, as well as newer and higher-end developers.
Beyond that, a sports complex that brings in visitors on a regular basis would more closely align with the changing face of the waterfront area, says Fixen, who also serves on the Downtown Long Beach Alliance’s executive committee. The successful Aquarium Of The Pacific, the new residential complexes and the successful renovation of the Pike all have contributed to changing the nature of the waterfront. “It’s not the same as it used to be,” Fixen says.
New development requires a balance of uses, with each serving to support the other. Retail doesn’t thrive in a vacuum, and nor does residential or entertainment. But linked together, they can feed each other in a way that makes a community thrive.
It’s hard to ignore the changes that have been wrought over the past 20 years just north of Long Beach, in the core of downtown Los Angeles. In the 1990s, downtown Los Angeles was anchored by a convention center isolated by large parking lots and surrounded by older apartment buildings. There was little retail or entertainment, and restaurants were largely confined to the security of large hotel complexes.
The establishment of the Staples Center, the associated L.A. Live retail, residential and entertainment development, and the redevelopment that has followed has absolutely transformed what was once an area to be avoided.
“At a high level, any proposal to revitalize the waterfront area has the potential to be a benefit to the city. It would bring a lot of vitality to the area, as we’ve seen in other cities that have had downtowns that have embraced a franchise of this nature,” says Ryan Altoon, executive vice president of AndersonPacific, LLC., which is developing high-end apartment complexes in the area.
Altoon also is a member of the Downtown Long Beach Alliance executive committee, and suggests that a revitalized waterfront would be a benefit to the downtown area as well. After all, many of the types of uses that followed Staples Center into the heart of downtown Los Angeles – restaurants, hotels and retail and entertainment – already exist in the downtown Long Beach area.
“A revitalization of the waterfront could help create a holistic, comprehensive and well-thought-out physical connectivity between the waterfront and downtown areas that would allow the city to take advantage of being something unique – a metropolis on the water,” he says.
Whether or not the Angels come to Long Beach is still up in the air. Some speculate the city is just being used as a bargaining chip for the baseball team with its current home, the City of Anaheim. Others are more optimistic. But generally speaking, there seems to be a sense around town that the waterfront needs the kind of attention a stadium, or other comprehensive development, would bring. Last September, Mayor Robert Garcia unveiled a plan meant to address that need – a waterfront visioning process that would eventually result in development on the convention center’s 13-acre parking lot. With the site slated for use in multiple events in the 2028 Olympic games, it may be some time before a cohesive plan emerges.