April 30, 2004 - From the April, 2004 issue

San Pedro Master Planning Underway-Bridge To Breakwater

The Port of Los Angeles has long been known globally as a center of commerce. But, the area surrounding the Port is all but unknown to most residents of Los Angeles. The Port is trying to change that, and have embarked on a master planning process to create a first class waterfront promenade in San Pedro. TPR is pleased to present this interview with Yehudi Gaffen, Principal of Gafcon Construction Consultants, who are partnering with architects Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn on the master planning and urban design of the " Bridge to Breakwater" project. In this interview, Gaffen talks about redevloping the waterfront and working with the city as a client.


Yehudi Gaffen

The Bridge to Breakwater project at the Port of Los Angeles must have an interesting heritage. Please share its origins as an idea--the dream.

I have heard a number of versions of the beginnings. From what I understand, the project originally started with a idea that was put out by a local restaurateur named John Papadakis, who owns a Greek restaurant close to the waterfront. His concept was that San Pedro had long been neglected and that it was a wonderful regional waterfront amenity that should be developed. His concept was to develop the waterfront from the Vincent Thomas Bridge to the breakwater promenade with a continuous promenade, open space and commercial projects.

The vision became reality when Jim Hahn and Janice Hahn, were elected. They were able to put the political weight behind the vision of the Bridge to Breakwater and made it a reality-an executable project.

Describe the planning project's scope and the players now involved.

The client is the Port of Los Angeles, which is really the city of Los Angeles through the Harbor Commission. Our team, the EE&K/Gafcon joint venture, was selected through a competitive process to be the designers and program managers for the Bridge to Breakwater project.

The project encompasses roughly 400 acres of land area to be developed. The initial conceptual plan was put together by the Port in collaboration with the community, which is called the framework plan. Our task is to put in place a detailed development plan which builds on the framework plan. Our first task is the overall plan – Bridge to Breakwater. The second task is the design and construction of the Downtown Harbor, which is to be located at the foot of 6th Street, and is to comprise a new commercial harbor, a town square, maritime related uses, and a future expansion of the existing Maritime Museum as a cultural focus of the area. This is actually the second increment of work; work has already started on the area closest to the bridge. This design commenced prior to out team becoming involved and is designed by EDAW and Moffat and Nicholl.

The other phases are being designed in the master plan. One of the key concepts is that the development be market driven. We feel it is very important to have something complete within five years, setting the quality standards for the entire project. The future phases are less defined at this point because we don't know when they're going to happen. The market will really drive that. If the residential development intensity of the downtown increases rapidly, that may drive additional retail/commercial space. So, our real focus right now is the five-year time horizon and getting something done within those five years.

Our experience is that if something doesn't get done within the five years, it becomes another set of plans on a shelf somewhere. And, it takes a lot of effort to get things restarted again. So, although we are focusing on the overall master plan, our real focus is on the short term-that five-year window.

Break down the 400 acre plus project into planning areas to better explain the work being done.

We've divided the project into districts. Each district will be unique, will have different attractions in it, and will enrich the whole area in terms of the overall fabric and how it all works together. From the Vincent Thomas Bridge, we start off with the Piers District, which is where the cruise ship terminal is. This is a more intensely developed area, with more traffic. Potentially there could be an inter-modal center there in the future.

The next area is what we call the Downtown Waterfront, which is where downtown San Pedro meets the water. The core of this district is Sixth Street, where it hits the water. It'll be a very vibrant waterfront, with a lot of ins and outs of the water. There are going to be additional harbors and not the straight bulkhead that you see right now. The major focus will be the water and uses on the water, that's what makes this location special. It'll have restaurants, entertainment venues, museums, possible office and open space for enjoying the activities.

The next area will be the Fisherman's Wharf district. This is in the area known as the SP slip, home of the fishing fleet. It's currently a very authentic fishing area with wholesale fish markets, restaurants, and fishing boats. We see this as the San Francisco-type Fisherman's Wharf, where people can dine, watch the boats come in and offload. There'll be fishermen repairing nets on the harbor and on the keys.

The next area is what we call the 22nd Street area, which will be a 22-to-24 acre green space park area to be accessible by the community. The community feels that there is not enough green space for active and passive recreation, so this will become the real hub for active and passive recreational activity.

The next district is the warehouse district. This is where Warehouse One is and a lot of the older historic marine uses were. There used to be a submarine repair facility during the Second World War in this part of the harbor. We're looking at uses for this as a future development opportunity.

Next to the warehouse district is the Marina/Resort area. We see this being possibly a place for mega yachts, for small boats and pleasure craft. There's also a place for a potential hotel-resort.

And lastly, at the breakwater we see being a much more pastoral-quiet, less traffic. This is an area that could become L.A.'s front door--the beach for Los Angeles.

What do you believe led the Harbor Commission to select EEK and Gafcon over the other international competitors who sought this project work?

Having worked on fairly large, complex projects in the past, one thing we found is that the traditional model for delivery of these projects doesn't always work. Part of the reason, we feel, is that there isn't a seamless collaboration between the program/project management side and the design side. You usually get one firm doing the program/project management or an independent program manager hired, who then hires the architect and urban planning contractors. It's kind of a shotgun marriage in most cases.

What we have developed is a delivery system that combines the program management side with the design side. We work very well with EE&K, the designers. We've worked with them in the past and we understand each other, speak the same language, and know each other's strengths and weaknesses. What we did for this project is submit a proposal as a partnership-a 50/50 partnership between the program management and the design side. We call it the left brain-right brain philosophy, where we each bring a different perspective to the project, but we bring it as partners and not as consultants who've been forced into a box to complete a project. We believe this was one of the elements that gave our team the unanimous approval of the selection committee.

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What do the EEK and Gafcon firms each bring to the table?

Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, in my opinion, is one of the most creative design firms around. I was on a selection panel that selected them-I had not worked with them before-on the San Diego North Embarcadero. They bring a unique concept of vision, practicality and creativity. I think it's really embodied in the two principals, Stan Eckstut and Vaughan Davies. Stan Eckstut is the visionary; he's the principal in charge. Vaughan is the creative force, the individual who takes the vision and puts it down on paper, creates the sketches and interprets Stan's concepts –bringing the vision to reality. Between the two of them, it's a great team. They've done some incredible projects, from Battery Park City, to Queensway Bay, to Baltimore Inner Harbor, to the Gateway Intermodal Transit Station at Union Station in Los Angeles.

Gafcon was founded in 1987, focused primarily on owner representation and project management. We have grown to be about 100 professionals within the firm. Last year, we were ranked as number 25 within the country for pure project managers. We focus on the harderside of the projects. By harder I don't mean more difficult, but it refers to the cost schedule, phasing, constructability, implementation, and business planning issues. The partnership brings those two sides together.

What is it like working for the Port of Los Angeles? Are they a good client?

I'll be honest with you, when we went into this project there was a lot of trepidation about what we'd heard about the client, and some of the challenges we may have to deal with through the design process. But, they've been one of the most fantastic clients to work for, and we've worked for a lot of clients.

They are open. They listen. They don't vet the design before anyone else sees it. The individuals we're working with-from Nick Tonsich, the Chair of the Harbor Commission, to Stacey Jones, who is head of development for the Port, Tony Gioiello, the chief harbor engineer, Sal Zambrano, who is the program manager and Laura Leon-they are all committed, passionate and easy to work with. On a scale of 0 to 10, we have found them a 9. So far, so good.

From where does the political will to do this large scale project come? There aren't many like master planning efforts being undertaken in L.A.

The political will comes from Mayor James Hahn and Councilwoman Janice Hahn to really move this project forward. They are major proponents of the project. As we would say, the stars are lined up when you get the councilperson and the mayor living in the district-it's a special time. So, from our perspective, the next five years are critical years to make sure we set the tone for this project and get the cornerstone of the project in place. With politics and real estate, priorities can change. Sometimes, projects get put on the back burner, especially a project as large as this. But, we feel by getting that first piece in and showing what this can be, not just for San Pedro but for the region, we believe that the rest of it will happen over time, regardless of who is in office.

Where do the dollars come from to fuel the project?

That's what we're trying to figure out right now. As part of our work, we're not only developing a plan, but our task is also to develop a viable business plan, which we're working on. Our commitment is to have this completed and approved by late summer. The costs of this project are huge. When you have 400 acres being considered for development, even modest costs per square foot for the public spaces generate huge numbers-hundreds of millions of dollars. Can the port afford to pay for all of it? I don't think so. We believe that development has to pay for parts of it. But that's what we're working through right now. The port has committed to funding the first increments of the project. But, what happens in the out years and in the future phases is something that we need to plan out.

You've noted that Gafcon has worked all over the country and the world. Are you surprised that Los Angeles' harbor area has no waterfront?

Absolutely. I'm not quite sure of the reasons, but it's way overdue. When we started this project or talked to people and asked, "Where is Los Angeles' waterfront?," we usually either got told it was Santa Monica or Venice Beach, which it really isn't. Then, people started thinking about it and realizing that we really don't have a waterfront, and wouldn't it be great if Los Angeles did have a waterfront.

The city and the region are not known, of late, for doing much planning--mediation, yes, but not much planning. Is the city a capable partner with the community on a planning project of this size and scope?

I can't speak to what's happened in the past. But, I can tell you that the people from CRA and from the port with whom we've been working are all fully engaged in the project. There's also the additional dimension of the tension between the community and the various public entities that are working on the project. Each side is pushing the other to excel, and to change the paradigm that's been in place to date.

There are also some pretty exciting things happening on the re-planning of downtown San Pedro, because without the synergistic development of the waterfront and the downtown area, you could end up with a less dynamic end result.

Lastly, one problem stifling development of downtown San Pedro is the Gaffney Street entrance into San Pedro from the 110. While outside of the framework of your master planning study, how is traffic ingress and egress factored into your planning?

Our scope of work at this stage dosn't include the entrance into San Pedro at Gaffey. There are some Community Projects that are looking at this aspect, however relative to the entrance at Harbor Drive and Swinford there's an active team of which we're a participant that's working on that issue. The traffic engineers seek to separate the truck traffic from regular vehicular traffic to open up the entrance into San Pedro at the Waterfront so you don't come down that narrow side street with a concrete wall on your right side. Stay tuned, because there are some pretty exciting concepts to be announced in the coming weeks and months.

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