Ambitious project, despite some hitches, has made some progress toward completion.
OCEANSIDE — The Log, over the course of a week, played phone tag with one of Oceanside SEA Center’s partners, Ernie Prieto. Finally, when this reporter and Prieto were able to connect, he commented: “This is my life,” in his jovial voice. Prieto has definitely kept busy since we spoke last year. Embarking on a journey to bring the SEA Center to the public has not been easy.
There is still some work ahead until the grand opening, currently planned for the end of spring 2019, but the project is moving ahead, albeit slowly. “We are moving forward patiently,” Prieto advises.
Celebrating a Year
On Dec. 5, Oceanside SEA Center will celebrate one year under Prieto, his wife and founding partner Capt. Joe Cacciola. The Log covered the extensive remodel from the beginning on 2018 in January, when it was revealed the location had no running water for 10 years.
At the time, Prieto had been eager to move forward — that excitement is still there, but navigating the red tape of city permits and bringing such an overarching vision to life can be daunting.
However, the completed project is so close. “We are literally on the cusp of finishing,” Prieto said.
Back in May, it was widely reported city staff had dropped the ball on acquiring a permit for dredging activities. When asked if that has affected business, Prieto said it came close but has not stood in the way.
“Obviously, dredging does make navigating safely more difficult at times,” Prieto said.
Prieto also stated that while the California Coastal Commission has authorized the project, the SEA Center is still in the process of acquiring city permits.
“We are in the final approval stages,” Prieto said.
One thing many business owners can attest to is Prieto’s proclamation that a project such as this one equates to “time and money.”
“When we started, we told the city it would probably be a total cost of $60,000, but I know at this point we have sunk at least double that [into the SEA Center],” Prieto said.
Moving Forward & the Grand Opening
Even though the process has stalled sometimes, Prieto affirms there has been progress.
“We’re still working toward our goals we talked about [last time we met],” Prieto said.
The last time The Log visited, one of the major selling points of the newly revamped building was that Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research (PIER) Institute would be conducting research upstairs. Prieto confirmed that PIER did move in last April.
Before, there had been talks of touch tanks being installed. Prieto said that project should be completed by Dec. 1.
In the works, an acquired sportfishing boat, Southern Gal, is being remodeled. Blue Horizon, another sportsfishing vessel, was bought and operates overnight, and also handles some whale watching tours.
Giving back to the Oceanside community has also been close to the heart of Prieto’s vision, and the SEA Center has been participating in programs such as a youth fishing program that allows children to learn and enjoy angling as a hobby. Prieto hopes that the SEA Center will continue to do this kind of work in the future.
Another detail that The Log saw in the remodel plans was changing the color of the building’s façade.
“Yes, we are going to change the color,” said Prieto, who mentioned this item was included in plans currently being reviewed by city staff.
At this point, locals and visitors can still enjoy the services Oceanside SEA Center offers to the public, but an official opening event is being planned.
Visit the website at oceansideseacenter.com, and learn more about the PIER Institute’s research at pierinstitute.org.