Like many merchants in downtown San Pedro, Warren Gunter remembers how bad it was a few years ago, when the traffic all but disappeared outside his small jewelry store on 6th Street.
"You could walk across the street with your eyes closed," he said.
Shoe-store owner Zivan Milivojevic watched his sales drop 20% in a year, causing fears he would lose his business. A few blocks away, Joanne Applegate watched as shop after shop locked the doors and whitewashed the windows. She imagined dark times ahead for the small lighting store she still manages.
"There was nothing," she said of business. "It was dead."
But today, nearly two years after 50% vacancy rates spawned a push for revitalization, a new wave of optimism has appeared among many San Pedro merchants. Despite a slow start and a raft of unsolved problems, including poor visibility, deteriorated buildings and heavy competition from newer malls and commercial areas, many merchants and property owners are now predicting a boom for the 50-year-old business district.
Huge Redevelopment Projects
Much of the optimism, they said, is the result of huge redevelopment projects planned for just outside the commercial area--among them an eight-story, 216-room hotel on Beacon Street, a 1,357-slip marina at nearby Cabrillo Beach and a World Cruise Center for commercial boat lines at the Port of Los Angeles, less than a mile away.
At the same time, a newly completed, 18-month planning study has established ambitious goals and a glowing economic forecast for property located inside the business district, where $700,000 in federal and city grants already has been set aside to help pay for revitalization.
The study, released last week by Mayor Tom Bradley's office, gives merchants a tentative list of recommendations for using those funds and provides them with their first market analysis of the area's potential. According to the report, the San Pedro market could support nearly fives times the business district's current yearly retail sales volume if the area were properly refurbished and promoted.
In other words, the report said, the area could be generating $77 million per year in sales, rather than the $15.8 million it is now doing, even without the aid of surrounding commercial growth.
Chance to Resurrect Area
The emergence of that growth, combined with a strong existing market, could give merchants a chance to resurrect the area during the next 10 years, the report said.
"(The) degree and character of change . . . will be dependent on the ability of the . . . merchants, property owners, community residents and governmental agencies to capitalize" on the improving market, the private consultant's report concluded. "The outlook . . . is extremely positive."
Not everyone agrees with the projections of $77 million in annual sales--"I don't see how that's possible," one store owner said--but most merchants said they are eager to begin work. A 30-member corporation of merchants and property owners was formed earlier this year to help put recommended improvements into effect and to plan cooperative marketing efforts that could get under way in the next few months, said Larry Montgomery, who directs the city-sponsored organization.
Already, the organization has adopted an logo--a cruise ship silhouetted against the Palos Verdes Peninsula--and a slogan, "San Pedro . . . Our Town," to help advertise the area.
Skipped by Development
San Pedro, one of 10 commercial areas in Los Angeles to have qualified for revitalization funds, is a town that was somehow skipped over by the extensive coastal development that characterized the 1970s in Southern California, Montgomery said. Now the area, with its soft sea breezes and a view of Los Angeles Harbor, is considered ripe for that development, he said.
"That is now the bright spot on our horizon," Montgomery said.
Grants and low-interest loans offered through the revitalization program are expected to result in extensive storefront remodeling, a trend toward higher-quality shops and a broad range of other improvements along 6th and 7th streets and Pacific Avenue, which form the heart of the business district, officials said.
By September, Montgomery said, the group hopes to select an architect and to begin sorting out the priorities among the many projects recommended by the planning study.
Better Parking, Wider Streets
Those recommendations call for larger and better-labeled parking lots, wider streets and sidewalks, and new public benches and drinking fountains. By the end of three years, the report suggests, the business district should have an aggressive cooperative marketing program and be part of a proposed shuttle-bus route connecting the new Cabrillo Beach marina, the World Cruise Center and the nearby Ports o' Call village.