A proposal to renovate a Wilmington pet food cannery into a restaurant and shopping complex has run into opposition because the Los Angeles Harbor Department wants to demolish it to make way for expansion of its maintenance yard.
The plan to remodel the Heinz Petfood Co. cannery, which is scheduled to close Sept. 1, is backed by Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores and a citizens advisory committee that is planning a waterfront development on port property in Wilmington.
The advisory committee, which was appointed by the Los Angeles Harbor Commission, has recommended that its study area be expanded to include the cannery, which is on Fries Avenue, not far from the foot of Avalon Boulevard, the focal point of the committee's review.
"We need an anchor, we need something that is going to give this place an identity, something that would be unique, that would give us a drawing card that nobody else in the south coast area has to offer," said committee Chairman George De La Torre, who first proposed the cannery conversion and then persuaded Flores to back him after taking her to see a similar project in Newport Beach.
Harbor Department officials, however, say they have reviewed the proposal and concluded that they can't give up the land, which they plan to use as a storage area for heavy machinery. However, their decision could be overturned by the harbor commissioners.
"The plan to redo the yard depends on the cannery property," said Nelson Hernandez, the port official who acts as liaison to the committee. "Without it, we really can't provide the type of services that we need for our tenants right now and in the future."
Top aides to Flores said Friday that the councilwoman will press for commissioners, along with other port officials and community leaders, to take a walking tour of the area to see its potential.
Flores' chief deputy, Bernie Evans, said: "The councilwoman wants everybody to go down there, the citizens advisory people, the commissioners, some key staff. . . . Let's walk down to the cannery site and let us visualize it before we set everything in concrete."
"We're still going to pursue it," added Ann D'Amato, Flores' harbor area deputy. "We're not just going to give up."
Committee 'Shook Up'
The department's decision sparked the ire of members of the advisory committee, which learned of it last week from Hernandez.
"Everybody was shook up," said committee member Gertrude Schwab, adding that relations with Hernandez have been "pretty cool" ever since.
In the wake of the decision, De La Torre said the committee has asked to meet directly with harbor commissioners. "It just seems that Wilmington has never really been in a position to enjoy the fruits of the harbor. . . . " he complained. "You look at San Pedro, you look at all the recreational facilities, tourist facilities. And what have they done for Wilmington?"