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Ports o' Call Buyers Plan 'Showplace' on Waterfront

August 20, 1987|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

Ports o' Call Village, the aging retail and restaurant complex along the main channel of Los Angeles Harbor, is being sold to the owners of a similar center in Long Beach, who plan to convert it into a "showplace for the City of Los Angeles."

Michael Lapin and Gerald Lutzky, who last year bought Long Beach's Shoreline Village, have agreed to pay $13.1 million to Specialty Restaurants Corp. for the 25-year-old San Pedro complex, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the South Bay.

The sale, which is expected to take six to nine months to complete, is conditioned upon Los Angeles Harbor Department approval of a 50-year lease for the property. Specialty Restaurants, which built Ports o' Call, owns the village but leases the property from the port. Its lease expires in 27 years.

"We think it is time that Ports o' Call was pulled into line and was a showplace for the City of Los Angeles and San Pedro," Lapin said. "It has charm and a lot of potential. We feel it just needs some TLC and a marketing thrust."

$1 Million in Rent

A marketing study found that 1.1 million people visited Ports o' Call last year. Retail areas of the complex grossed about $13 million in sales and the restaurants grossed about $12 million. The Harbor Department, which receives a percentage of sales as rent, collected about $1 million.

Harbor Department officials said they welcome the prospect of new owners at the village, which in recent years has lost its reputation as an exclusive specialty center. The village has six vacant stores, its highest number of peak-season vacancies ever, and in recent months port officials have publicly criticized Specialty Restaurants President David Tallichet for allowing the village to deteriorate.

Tallichet was unavailable for comment but a representative denied that the center has deteriorated.

Although the village remains profitable, Mark Richter, the port's real estate officer, said the department would be reluctant to commit itself to a 50-year lease unless the new owners agree to "substantially upgrade" the complex--both physically and in terms of the quality of merchandise.

"If we are going to have Ports o' Call there for at least another 27 years or possibly 50 years, we need to know that it is going to function well as a commercial draw," Richter said. "Initially, it attracted people because of the quality of the merchandise and the quality of the merchandising. In recent years, there has been a trend toward carnival merchandise. We have all seen the decline in the quality of retailing."

Lapin said he and his partner have not yet decided what improvements they would make to the village, but he said they recognize that it needs a face lift.

"It is the granddaddy of waterfront properties in Southern California," Lapin said.

Merchants at the village, which includes about 85 retail and food shops and five major restaurants, have complained for several years that Specialty Restaurants has not properly maintained the center. Merchants have complained about poor lighting, inadequate maintenance of aging buildings and walkways, and an unresponsive management.

'Positive Change'

"We all look at this as a very positive change," said Jayme Wilson, president of the Ports o' Call Merchants Assn. "Any time anyone spends that kind of money to buy something, they must want it to be a success."

Kenneth Kern, property manager at Specialty Restaurants, declined to comment on the company's relationship with the port, saying only that the Anaheim-based firm has not neglected the property. He said the company last year began refurbishing parts of the village that have "reached the age where they need sprucing up."

Specialty Restaurants decided to sell the village several months ago as part of a corporate strategy to concentrate exclusively on restaurants, Kern said, and approached Lapin and Lutzky through a broker. Specialty owns numerous restaurants nationwide, including Doolittle's Raiders in Torrance and the Proud Bird near Los Angeles International Airport. Kern said the company plans to continue operating its two restaurants at Ports o' Call--the Yankee Whaler and Ports o' Call Restaurant.

Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents San Pedro, described the sale as "wonderful" and said she hopes it will resolve many of the merchants' concerns about the center. Flores said she has received a constant flow of complaints from merchants about Specialty Restaurants since she was elected in 1981.

No Praise for Landlord

"I can't remember ever hearing anyone praise the landlord," Flores said. "Of course everybody will be apprehensive about a new landlord, but when you have problems with a present landlord, you look forward to any changes."

Lapin and Lutzky have owned and operated Shoreline Village in Long Beach since last December. Shoreline has 30 stores, several offices, and no major restaurants. Lapin said Shoreline and Ports o' Call are far enough apart that they do not compete.

Wilson, of the Ports o' Call merchants group, said some tenants of the village are concerned that the new landlords will raise rents. Lapin said he and his partner will honor existing leases, but he said it is too early to tell what would happen to leases when they come up for renewal.

"We would have to take them one at a time," he said. "We don't have any feeling at this point whether the leases are at market, below market or above market."

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