The Metro A Line moves through Downtown Long Beach as it makes its way past the public library on Tuesday, February 8, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

As the 2028 Olympics—set to be hosted in Los Angeles—draw nearer, Long Beach continues to prepare for its role in the international event.

Mayor Robert Garcia announced the “8 by 28” initiative in 2016, which highlights eight major development projects the city is aiming to complete by the time the Olympics arrive in town.

Some of the projects—which are mostly being funded by Tidelands Operating Funds—were conceived prior to the announcement of the initiative, but they were brought under the umbrella as a representation of the city’s efforts to revitalize the areas that will act as the Long Beach Sports Park, the main hub for the Olympics in the city.

Here is a look at the progress of the eight projects that are part of the initiative.

Metro Blue Line improvements

Improvements to the Metro Blue Line—now known as the A Line—is one of the first projects completed as part of the initiative. LA Metro pumped around $350 million into the improvements to the agency’s oldest line in service, which launched in 1990.

The renovation, which wrapped up in November 2020, modernized the connection between the Seventh Street Metro Center in Long Beach and the Compton Station.

“We’ve been pushing Metro for a long time to really upgrade the A line,” City Manager Tom Modica said. “Now we have brand new stations that got redone and brand new cars that got redone.”

These improvements were made by Metro mainly to bring the line up to modern safety and technology standards. That includes the addition of new crossover tracks and signal system and the addition of digital displays to stations on the line.

This project helps connect Los Angeles with Long Beach, which will be two of the main hubs of the 2028 Olympics.

This rendering shows a new concession stand planned for Alamitos Beach. Courtesy of the city of Long Beach.

Beach concession stands

Improvements to three of four concession stands along several of the city’s beaches have already been finished.

The completed stands—which are located at Bayshore Beach, Junipero Street and Granada Street—each host their own food vendors.

At Bayshore Beach is Grill ‘em All, a heavy metal themed burger establishment that caught the public’s eye when it was featured as a food truck on Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. A water play area was also installed by the city at this stand, which has been such a success that Joshua Hickman, who serves as the Business Operations Bureau Manager for the Department of Public Works, said inspired a similar project in Downtown currently under construction. (Those projects are not related to the newly installed “Wibit” at Alamitos Beach.)

The vendor for the Granada location has yet to start operations as it works through the Coastal Commission permit process, but the stand is open after receiving a major facelift and a “water feature playground.”

Junipero’s location received a similar renovation to the Granada location, but it was given a different color scheme to differentiate the two stands. It has welcomed Saltwater Deck, which serves grass-fed beef burgers, wraps, breakfast burritos and frozen yogurt.

The fourth location, which is currently under construction at Alamitos Beach, is the largest project among the concession stand improvements. Unlike the other projects, an entirely new structure is being built at Alamitos Beach. The “core and shell” construction—which refers to the construction of the structure of a building before developing individual units—was recently completed, Hickman said.

Gaucho Grill—an Argentine steakhouse—will set up shop at the Alamitos Beach stand, which will include a full kitchen and bar for the restaurant. The restaurant is working through its final permits. The stand is expected to be in full operation by next year.

“It’s going to be a cool, cool place once that gets opened,” Hickman said.

A rendering of Long Beach Airport’s historic terminal renovation. Courtesy of the city of Long Beach.

Airport improvements

At the Long Beach Airport, which will welcome many Olympic attendees, the Phase II Terminal Area Improvement Project is set to improve the travel experience.

A new ticketing lobby opened to passengers at the airport in May, which has already helped to expedite the check-in process. Improving the baggage claim area is another point of focus, which Modica expects to be completed at the end of this year.

COVID didn’t knock this project off of its timeline, but it did put the status of the project as a whole into question.

“COVID almost ended that project completely as people weren’t flying anymore,” Modica said. “But I would say because we had such a long lead time, we’re not really that far off schedule.”

Other amenities that will be included in the improvement project are a rental car return lot to facilitate smoother rental car use, general terminal improvements including to the roadways, and an overhaul of the airport’s Meet and Greet Plaza.

Modica said he expects the overall project to wrap up by the 2028 deadline.

An early rendering of the rainbow-shaped pier that shows the below deck fishing space and the interior harbor for swimming. Courtesy of the city of Long Beach.

Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier

A redesign of the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier, which was originally built in 1916 at 39th Place and moved 100 feet away from its original location in 1965, envisions the site as a venue to view sailing events during the Olympics.

The pier is currently straight, at about 1,620 feet long and 26 feet wide through most of its length, but the redesign—which went through a visioning phase in which community members provided input on four potential designs—could change that.

A memo released by the city in April stated Long Beach was bringing an engineering firm to study a rainbow-shaped design, which community members said reminded them of the iconic Rainbow Pier.

“The community really wholeheartedly preferred the horseshoe shaped pier, which harkens back and pays homage to the Rainbow Pier that was once a focal point Downtown,” Hickman said.

While the design has been agreed upon, Hickman said that the timeline is still up in the air. He said that the project is still set to be completed by the 2028 deadline, but the exact timing is unclear.

“It is going to take a little while to get through the concept phase, get through the technical studies,” Hickman said, “but this project is currently in line for that 2028 deadline.”

The Pride lifeguard tower was rebuilt after being vandalized. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Lifeguard towers

Another item on the list is replacing the city’s 23 lifeguard towers, which are nearing the end of their service lives. But that process has proved more complex than initially anticipated.

One challenge came when one of the towers, painted with a rainbow of colors and dubbed a Pride Tower to celebrate the LGBT community during 2020’s Pride Month, was vandalized and burned down almost a year later. A new Pride Tower was erected in June last year.

While the timeline for this project has not been significantly impacted by COVID or this incident, the cost may have been. Hickman estimated that the cost for each lifeguard tower was around $60,000, but that figure is from prior to the pandemic.

“There’s been some inflation and other things that have impacted different costs,” Hickman said. “So, those are somewhat old numbers.”

Hickman could not provide current estimates for the cost.

Long Beach Arena, March 11, 2019. File Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Long Beach Arena 

The Arena itself received renovations in the form of the Pacific Ballroom in 2013, but there is still one major step that needs to be taken to prepare the venue for the Olympics.

“Our arena is heavily used right now, but the seats aren’t really used,” Modica said.

Once a place that hosted a plethora of concerts and some of the biggest sporting events in the world, including volleyball events at the 1984 Olympics, the arena has since seen its use shift to events like conferences that fit within the arena space itself and don’t require use of the built-in seating.

Now, the city is looking to prepare the arena for a return to its roots—and the seating needs to be upgraded. The arena’s seating is the primary issue that needs to be addressed for spectators to view handball events, which Modica expects to be completed by the 2028 deadline.

On top of seating upgrades, Modica said there will be small improvements to HVAC and other systems that keep the building functioning behind the scenes. The full scope of the improvements has yet to be finalized.

A rendering for the proposed hotel at the southeast corner of Ocean and Pine in Downtown. Courtesy of the city of Long Beach.

Convention Center hotel

While there are plenty of hotels in the Downtown area, city officials hope to provide even more accommodations in the immediate vicinity of the Long Beach Convention Center to maximize convenience for visitors.

To that end, work on conceiving a new hotel at 100 E. Ocean Blvd., at Pine Avenue, was key to facilitating the hosting of the Olympics. Plans for the project were shown to the public in 2019, and the land for a 30-story hotel has been sold to American Life, Inc., Modica says, but COVID-19 caused a long delay in the process.

“Obviously in the pandemic hotel financing has become difficult,” Modica said. “They’re looking to get their project up and going.”

Despite this, Modica expects the project to be complete in time for the Olympics, but the timeline is still unclear. The hotel will join a long list in Long Beach’s Downtown scene, but its location is crucial for Modica and his team.

“That will be a huge, 20-plus story hotel right there on our key corridor overlooking the entire event,” Modica said. “So that’ll be a customer experience as well.”

A rendering of the proposed Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center. Courtesy of the city of Long Beach.

Belmont Beach and Aquatics Center

Work to build a new Belmont Pool started in 2014, soon after the previous building—which played host to the 1968 summer Olympic swimming trials—was demolished due to safety concerns related to the building’s age. The city has been using an outdoor pool in its stead, but a new swimming complex has been in the works ever since.

The complex, though, saw delays in receiving approval from the Coastal Commission. After designs for the pool were held up for years in legal challenges and appeals by residents, the commission tasked the city with making concrete changes to the plans for the complex last February to make the pool more accessible for those in less affluent communities.

Plans for the new complex feature a 50-meter Olympic-sized swimming pool alongside a shallower pool for classes and youth. Diving boards will be installed at several different heights, and the existing outdoor pool will be replaced by another more permanent pool as part of the complex, which will be outfitted with new restrooms and showers.

Seating is also key for spectators, and plans for the project call for almost 2,000 seats to be built throughout the complex, including 1,555 at the main pool.

Currently, Modica said the project is in its financing stages, and the team working on the project is hoping to have that completed by the end of the year, with construction expected to start soon after.

While the pool is on track to be completed before 2028, in time for the Olympics, city officials said it is not currently scheduled to host events during the games. The cost, meanwhile, is expected to be in excess of $100 million. Modica said more specific projections on the costs for the pool and other projects will be shared in an upcoming town hall on the initiative.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the timeline for the Belmont Beach and Aquatics Center. It is on track to be completed before 2028, in time for the Olympics.

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.