In 2006, talk began of a new Long Beach Civic Center – a new city hall, a new port headquarters, a new state-of-the-art library, a revitalized Lincoln Park and the development of something more. Fast forward to 2019: half of that $1 billion plan has come to fruition.
“The new civic center, with city hall, the port headquarters and the library, has been a great addition to the downtown core. We’ve seen businesses spring up in the area and residents are happy about the activation,” Mayor Robert Garcia said. “I’ve talked to a lot of neighbors that have seen great improvements in the direct neighborhood. And most importantly, we have really accessible facilities. It’s been a success and we’re excited about the growth.”
The new city hall and Port of Long Beach headquarters are each 11-story buildings, totaling a combined 511,000 square feet. The city hall building includes the new Bob Foster Civic Chambers and an entire wing dedicated to services for easier public access, such as a permitting center and cashiers. The buildings opened on July 29.
The new 92,500-square-foot Billie Jean King Main Library opened its doors on September 21. The remaining pieces of the dream that began 13 years ago are the revamping of Lincoln Park and the private midblock development, which will be on the sites currently occupied by the old city hall and main branch library buildings.
“We’re looking for a vibrant mixed-use development that helps bring a new 24-hour residential component to the civic center site,” Jeffrey Fullerton, project director for developer Plenary Properties Long Beach, said. “It’s one of the things that has been lacking over the years.”
While plans for the forthcoming private development are being kept under wraps, Fullerton confirmed that the current iteration calls only for residential and retail uses. When initially announced, the project also included an option for a hotel.
“We are in a housing crisis as a state, so the more housing, the more density that we can create in the core is really important. We want to create as much housing as possible, so we’re really pushing the envelope,” Garcia said. “The initial plan called for around 300 units of housing, but we’re pushing that to see if we can actually get a lot more. Any time you put in hundreds of units and thousands of people, you are creating a stronger urban core because it means that there are more folks shopping and supporting businesses.”
Garcia said that he is “very interested” in partnering with the Long Beach Unified School District and Plenary to create a teacher’s village within the midblock development. He explained that the village would have affordable housing designated for Long Beach teachers. As a whole, Garcia noted that the new civic center is an important transformation because the old civic center was closed off to the public due to its design. However, he said the new civic center’s openness exudes transparency.
Fullerton noted that the development team and city staff are still in the planning phase, with architecture plans still incomplete. However, he added that he anticipates demolition of the former city hall building and library to begin in the “first part” of next year, once plans for the new development are finalized and approved.
“An ‘urban waterfront playground’ I believe is the tagline [for Downtown Long Beach] that . . . has been used for some time and we’re really starting to see that come true,” Fullerton said. “I think it’s one of the best untold beachfront stories in Southern California, and we’re excited to be a part of that.”