LONG BEACH — Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men's blood.
--Developer James W. Rouse, quoting a
turn-of-the-century urban planner.
Since buying the old Pike amusement park site in late August, nationally known developer James Rouse and his Los Angeles partner Wayne Ratkovich have been stirring local imaginations with their grand plans.
The partners have quickly spread the word that they want to build, as Rouse says, "a place of joy" on the waterfront where the raucous Pike once stood.
Their plans, though still vague, will incorporate the colorful and lively shopping and entertainment elements that have made Rouse's "festival marketplaces" in Boston and Baltimore models for reviving deteriorated downtowns, they say.
And the Long Beach project of more than 250,000 square feet, Rouse said, will be his largest.
"This would be a kind of seaside village. If one lived there, one could also work there and shop there. . . . People will find pleasure and convenience and happiness," said Ratkovich, himself acclaimed for sensitive restoration of historic buildings in Los Angeles.
May Disarm Critics
Rouse, 72, and Ratkovich, 45, bring with them a marketing and development scheme unusual in Long Beach--one that may disarm critics by allowing Long Beach itself to help determine what will be built on 10 of the city's most valuable and historic acres.
"One has to begin, as with all property, thinking 'What is it that can be done here that would be most responsive to the needs and the yearnings of the people of this city--and can be done economically?' " Rouse said in a recent telephone interview from his Maryland headquarters.
The partners have hired a public relations firm to ferret out the views of a cross section of Long Beach leaders. And Ratkovich, the project's point man, has already taken his upbeat message to community meetings, rival developers and several key offices in City Hall.
For example, he recently talked with Joseph Prevratil, president of Wrather Port Properties Inc., about how a shopping and entertainment "village" Wrather plans north of the Queen Mary could complement, not compete with, the Pike development, Prevratil said.
At the same time, Ratkovich said, he has begun discussions with the owners of 20 acres adjacent to the 10 acres he and Rouse bought two months ago for $17 million. Regardless of ownership, Ratkovich said, all 30 acres--south of Ocean Boulevard between Magnolia and Pine avenues--should be developed with a unified theme and design.
So far, local leaders say they are impressed with the partners' go-slow approach and broad-brush plan.
"This is quite unusual for a developer," Mayor Ernie Kell said of the project's two-year lead time. "Normally they want to break ground the day they clear escrow. . . . and normally they view their projects as an island."
A Ratkovich speech three weeks ago before a coalition of local preservationists also won converts, said Luanne Pryor, a coalition director.
"I think everybody is very enthusiastic about (Ratkovich) coming to town. I think he really cares about what he's going to put down there. I think he has a sense of community, and is making a special effort to get the community involved," she said.
Roger Anderman, executive director of the city Redevelopment Agency, said he sees Rouse and Ratkovich as "very high-quality developers" with an intelligent approach to the project. "I'm certainly pleased to have them in Long Beach," Anderman said.
That they would plunk down millions for a property where four previous projects have been canceled since 1979 also indicates greater developer interest in this city, Anderman said. Competition for other prime downtown sites has also increased dramatically in the past year, he said.
Investment Not Thought Chancy
"The world is finally discovering Long Beach," Anderman said.
Ratkovich said he and Rouse do not think investment in Long Beach is chancy. Rouse said his old friend Ernest Hahn, developer of the downtown Plaza Mall, one of Long Beach's earliest redevelopment projects, recommended the site.
"Frankly, we've heard this site described by other developers as one of the best in the country. We did not ask the Redevelopment Agency to underwrite our involvement. . . . There is not much doubt left that Long Beach is going to be successful," Ratkovich said.
For a decade, downtown redevelopment has alternately lurched two steps forward before falling back a stride. Nearly $1.5 billion has been committed to the effort, with construction of civic and convention centers, a shopping mall, two luxury hotels and several major office buildings, according to a recent city report.
But residential, retail and entertainment construction has lagged. The Pike project probably would provide hundreds of new dwellings plus badly needed shopping and entertainment, Rouse and Ratkovich say. All three elements are the highest priorities for the Redevelopment Agency, Anderman said.