SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA — One of the biggest draws to live in or visit Southern California is its waterfront, and in recent years we’ve seen numerous planned or executed projects on water’s edge up and down the Los Angeles and San Diego coast. Naturally developers are attracted to these waterfront properties, hoping to capitalize on an already captive audience and exploit the established market share of coastal-loving patrons who also happen to have open wallets.
But how are these projects affecting boaters?
At least seven marina or harbor areas between Santa Barbara and San Diego are currently being revitalized or redeveloped. An eighth harbor (Ventura Harbor) was recently updated with a variety of boutique shops and restaurants surrounding its adjacent marina.
Boater-friendly waterfronts are certainly evolving. Areas once dominated by boating uses are now being repackaged as mixed-use destinations in an effort to draw as many people as possible to any given waterfront.
The city of Los Angeles, for example, has consistently stated it hopes to convert San Pedro into a major waterfront destination rivaling the large crowds who visit Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and Pier year-round. One marina was shut down so the city and local port district could convert the area into a major hub for the revitalized waterfront, where shops and restaurants would dot the San Pedro coast.
Another major waterfront revitalization is in play a few miles up the coast in Redondo Beach, where a local developer proposed building a $300 million (some claim $400 million) project bringing restaurants, shops, office space and a movie theater to King Harbor. One of the most controversial elements associated with the proposed waterfront revitalization project is whether (and where) boaters would finally have a boat launch ramp.
Meanwhile Los Angeles County officials are pushing ahead on a variety of projects at Marina del Rey, including one proposal bringing restaurants, a West Marine and Trader Joe’s next to a few hundred boat slips as well as a revitalized Fisherman’s Village.
Down in Long Beach a large property with a dilapidated hotel across the street from Alamitos Bay Marina is being vetted for a mixed-use commercial project similar to the Waterfront development in Redondo Beach. The marina itself is almost fully rebuilt to accommodate larger vessels.
Similar projects are taking place in Ventura County, where local residents and government officials are verbally sparring over plans to upgrade portions of Oxnard’s Channel Island Harbor. County officials hope to tear down the abandoned Casa Sirena Hotel – which sits adjacent to the harbor’s boat slips – and build a new hotel, all in the name of making Channel Island Harbor more attractive to non-boating visitors.
Of course there are attempts to update waterfronts down in Orange County. Newport Beach, for example, continues to figure out how to make Mariners’ Mile, once a bastion for boating and marine interests, into a major visitor-serving destination similar to downtown Huntington Beach or Santa Monica.
An official city presentation at the Newport Beach Harbor Commission’s meeting on Aug. 10 revealed a myriad of waterfront projects in store for Mariners’ Mile and several other portions of the harbor area. Lido Marina Village, for example, hopes to reactive the western edge of Newport Harbor with dining and shopping options. The updated village also includes plans for boaters to dock and dine.
Newport Bay Marina at the city’s Balboa Peninsula is scheduled to be completed in mid-2017 and bring a mix of boating, residential and retail uses to the harbor.
Orange County officials have been trying to revitalize Dana Point Harbor since 1997. The harbor’s aging infrastructure could finally be updated as construction launched earlier this year. If current plans are realized Dana Point Harbor would feature updated slips, expanded commercial uses and dry boat storage.
Navigate several nautical miles south to San Diego Bay and the port district there has several plans in the works to dramatically alter the local waterfront. Harbor Island, an area dense with boaters, could see new hotels added to an already crowded area. Another boater-friendly area, nearby Shelter Island, could also see some changes soon. Red Sails Inn, a restaurant rich with San Diego’s maritime history, is set to close down Aug. 31 and be replaced by a more modern restaurant.
San Diego’s port district also plans to build waterfront projects in the downtown area and farther down the harbor in Chula Vista.
So what, exactly, is the best way to describe what is going on at these waterfronts? Even more, are these planned changes beneficial for boaters?
An article penned by Reagan Haynes for Trade Only Today described the transition of waterfronts from marinas to “activity centers” as evolution. Marina managers, Haynes said, are making accommodations for larger boats because such is the current trend.
There was a time, Haynes wrote, when marinas had no problem filling slips and regularly had wait lists. However the economic crash of 2008 negatively affected marinas and harbors, causing waterfront managers and city planners to adjust to a new reality.
“Now marinas are reinvesting in infrastructure to accommodate what a changing public wants — more dry storage, larger slips, amenities, dock-and-dine restaurants and perhaps most important, a focus on high-end hospitality and concierge services,” wrote Haynes. “The buzzword at many marinas is ‘destination’ — not just for boaters, though they remain the bread and butter of the operations.”
Haynes continued marinas and harbors now rely upon multiple visitor-types, primarily those who actively seek to be near the water, to stay afloat.
“The idea is also to draw those who enjoy being near the water with places to shop, restaurants, pools, pathways and walkways, rentals and charter opportunities to get non-boat owners enjoying the water,” continue Haynes.
Perhaps building a more diverse waterfront is the current trend. However lost in the excitement of redefining Southern California’s waterfronts is whether certain groups who have an established presence on the water are negatively affected by lofty ambitions of a highly-activated coast.
Boaters and other marine interests should be an active part of the revitalization process. Changes are inevitable but harbors and marinas could still be a destination for boaters. Each coastal city and county between Santa Barbara and Chula Vista has a process of how locals can become more involved with its decision-making.