LONG BEACH — After months of review, the fate of Shoreline Aquatic Park and Lagoon has emerged as one of the key sticking points of a proposal to build a $550-million downtown tourist harbor to jump-start Long Beach's ailing economy.
The plan by Ehrenkrantz & Eckstut Architects calls for the park to be excavated to make way for the harbor.
Several City Council members made it clear during a public hearing last week that they are concerned that replacement parkland included in the plan will not pass muster.
The consultant calls for 45 acres of parkland to replace the 36 acres of Shoreline Aquatic Park. But most of that land would be in strips and patches in an area near the Queen Mary that is harder to reach.
"The linchpin here is the park," Councilman Ray Grabinski said. "This city has a reputation for forgetting to give people park space."
Members of the public who testified at the hearing also were dissatisfied.
"Much of the replacement acreage seems to be a 30-foot esplanade," said Robert Lamond, a spokesman for the Long Beach chapter of the Sierra Club.
The City Council heard about two hours of testimony but plans to take no action for about a month, giving City Manager James C. Hankla a chance to review all the reports and testimony and come up with a recommendation. At that time, the council could decide to leave the park intact and ask that part of the plan be redrawn. Once the harbor is created, the plan calls for a pier with an aquarium, an amusement park, restaurants and shops. Estimated to draw 5.5 million visitors yearly to the waterfront, the harbor plan also includes an amphitheater, marina and cruise-ship terminal where the Queen Mary is located.
The development, which would be built in phases over at least 11 years, would create 3,575 jobs and adding $275 million a year to the local economy, according to the consultant.
The price tag is $550 million, about $250 million of which would be public funds. The rest would come from private investors.
For three months, the city has held forums to introduce the proposed harbor development to the public. The public had a chance at last week's City Council meeting to give its impressions of the plan.
The business community raved about the proposed harbor.
"It's now time to take bold action to make sure the plan is implemented," said Cliff Ratkovich, spokesman for Pike Properties Associates, a development group that wants to build a huge office, commercial and residential project on the site of the old Pike Amusement Park just north of the proposed harbor.
But North Long Beach resident Dan Schulz was among several who objected to spending millions of dollars in public funds for such a project.
"The citizens of North Long Beach are mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore," Schulz said, adding that the city should be developing the north side of town.
But Mayor Ernie Kell and the council members generally supported the plan as a way to give the whole city an economic boost.
The city has suffered a series of setbacks. It lost its bid for a $3-billion Disney theme park. Its aerospace industry has laid off thousands of workers because of the recession and defense spending cuts. And the Long Beach Naval Station is scheduled to close in 1996, costing thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in lost taxes.
"It's an opportunity for the city of Long Beach to create thousands of new jobs for its residents," said Kell, who predicted the project will pay for itself in taxes and other public benefits. "This will be a very, very successful project."
City officials have yet to devise a formal plan to come up with the money to pay for its share of the project. The city would pay to create the harbor, building new parks and other public improvements. Private developers would foot the expense of the buildings that would be run by private businesses.
Hankla said the city probably will issue bonds to raise the money for construction. New taxes and other income generated by the tourist harbor will be used to pay off the bonds.
He is expected to present a funding plan to the council on Aug. 17.
The project has its risks. If it doesn't generate as much revenue as expected, the city could be forced to dip into its reserves to make the bond payments.
Of the nine council members, Councilman Warren Harwood was most critical of the plan. He says bulldozing Shoreline Aquatic Park and Lagoon would amount to a "land grab," depriving local residents of prime parkland to benefit Ratkovich and other businessmen.
Harwood also is skeptical of the economic benefits, which the consultant and city administrators acknowledged are general projections.
"It's a windfall for these people," Harwood said in an interview. "It's not clear when a public benefit will occur."
Harwood has suggested leaving the park as it is and developing the tourist harbor in part of the nearby Downtown Long Beach Marina.