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State Ponders Strategy to Make Landmark Malibu Pier Pay Off

April 20, 1986|JUDY PASTERNAK | Times Staff Writer

The Malibu Pier is a historic landmark and these days, it shows its age.

But when Thomas P. Pratte, an official of the Surfrider Foundation, looks across the rotting planks of the 720-foot deck toward the twin buildings with peeling paint at the pier's end, he envisions a museum of surfing history. The display would include a view of the adjacent Malibu Surfrider State Beach, where the modern surfboard and classic wave-riding maneuvers evolved.

Jerry Bahr has different ideas. He'd like to see a charter boat for scuba divers operating at the pier, in addition to the bait shop and fishing boats he manages there now. And he'd like to see vendors hawking T-shirts and snacks to passers-by.

Analysts from California State University, Sacramento, can picture a restaurant, a sports clothing store, a gift shop and a bar luring tourists and locals--and their dollars.

Nearly six years have passed since the state spent $2.5 million to buy the pier, which had suffered decades of neglect, from William Huber. At the time, state officials intended to refurbish the pier within five years, using money from the rent paid by the two concessions there: Seaboard Rental Co., a sportfishing operation managed by Bahr and based in the twin buildings at the southern end of the pier, and Alice's Restaurant, which leases two stucco buildings at the northern end.

But the pier, which was built in 1929, turned out to be more extensively damaged than the state had realized. And batterings by harsh storms in 1983 made matters worse. Though the state has spent about $1.75 million on pier repairs, estimates of total renovation costs now range from $2 million to $4 million.

Leases About to Expire

With about $70,000 paid in rents during the 1984-85 fiscal year, according to state concession analyst Jo Ann Frierson, it could take decades to accumulate enough for the repairs.

Now, though, the leases, which were negotiated with the former owner, are about to expire. The state Department of Parks and Recreation, which is responsible for the pier, is pondering how to bring in more money.

How that is done could determine whether the renovation proceeds quickly or lags even longer, and whether the pier becomes an appealing tourist destination or an overcrowded attraction without enough parking.

Bahr has watched plenty of entrepreneurs pace the deck and has listened to their ideas for developing the shabby pier. Some have talked about placing outdoor restaurant tables on the planking, and "some hotshots even wanted to turn old buildings into a condominium," Bahr said.

He chuckled. "They could lose their shirts if they're too grandiose," he said.

Smaller Project

The project proposed by the state is far smaller--smaller even than the complex suggested by the Cal State study, which was commissioned last year by the Legislature.

The department next month will ask the state Park and Recreation Commission to approve a second restaurant and bar on the vacant first floor of one pier building, and a fast-food stand in another structure, where Alice's kitchen is housed. A new kitchen would be added to Alice's main building.

The entire pier would be leased for 20 years to one operator, who could then sublease each business. The operator would have to upgrade the pier immediately and pay the state 5% of yearly revenues for rent. The state estimates rents would be about $200,000.

Repaired, Not Replaced

The dilapidated buildings would be repaired, not replaced; the pier deck would not be extended.

"I think everybody likes the historic appearance," said Maurice (Bud) Getty, superintendent of the parks department's Santa Monica Mountains District, which includes the Malibu shore.

"And it's primarily a fishing pier. That's the reason the state got involved. We'd hear a lot of complaints if we tried to change it. We just want to realize the potential of the pier a little better."

Pratte, executive vice president of the Surfrider Foundation, said he will travel to the commission's May 9 meeting in Brea, in Orange County, to ask that a surfing museum be included in the planned project.

Known for Waves

The adjacent beach is known worldwide for its long, even waves. In the 1950s, surfers there switched from heavy surfboards to light, fiberglass-coated balsa wood, a design that became known as the "Malibu board."

And of the surfing maneuvers created offshore, the most difficult was--and still is--to stay with a wave from the point all the way to "shoot the pier."

Pratte said he expects the commission to face a choice "whether to turn the pier into Restaurant Row to increase profit or whether it should be utilized as part of the state parks system, to provide an experience for visitors." But, he added, "there's a possibility of some kind of a blend" such as an exhibit hall inside a restaurant.

Interest in Bidding

Several Southern California businesses are said to be interested in bidding for the right to operate the pier once Alice's lease runs out in 1987 and the sportfishing lease ends in 1990.

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