Seeking to capitalize on what’s been a post-pandemic surge in the vacation cruise industry at the Port of Los Angeles, long-standing plans to add a new cruise terminal, waylaid during the height of the public health crisis, took another step forward this week.
The LA harbor commission heard a report on Thursday, Nov. 16, outlining steps to issue a final request for proposals for a new, large Outer Harbor cruise terminal with two deep-water berthing spaces for the industry’s newest and biggest passenger ships. But the bid request will also include an aim to make that terminal versatile enough to accommodate other community uses, such as a large conference venue, when ships aren’t in port.
That final RFP is tentatively slated to go out early next year. The port is seeking more input through that process and also interest from cruise lines and other parties looking to partner with the port in the venture.
While the emphasis will be on the Outer Harbor, where overflow cruise ships are now temporarily berthed, the bid will also seek ideas on upgrading the existing World Cruise Terminal at Swinford Street and Harbor Boulevard, where two berths already exist but are having trouble accommodating some of the larger vessels now coming online.
A primary goal is to increase the port’s overall market share, said Mike Galvin, director of Waterfront and Commercial Real Estate at the Port of L.A. But the development, he said, will also provide more amenities to the local community by way of a potential conference site that will come with increased parking facilities. Currently, Galvin said, the need for cruise industry parking is growing and now competes for available surface space with the nearby Battleship USS Iowa. Existing surface parking to the south — at 22nd Street — is being expanded, though more spaces will be needed.
The plan to relocate the Iowa to the Southern Pacific Slip near the new West Harbor development is a long-term goal, Galvin said, and are not a focus of the RPF.
Because of the time that would be involved in design, approvals and construction, a new Outer Harbor terminal likely would not break ground for three to five years, Galvin said — and “probably closer to five years.” A long-term ground lease, up to 66 years, would be part of the agreement.
A draft RFP went out early this year. Response to that draft was lively and the final RFP going out next will reflect many of those ideas.
The planned Outer Harbor terminal on San Pedro’s southern coastline — at Berths 45-51 — has been in the works for more than a decade, but not without local criticism. Critics in the past have expressed concern that the development will block water views, negatively impact local boating traffic coming to and from the marina, and cause traffic congestion. The area offers panoramic views of the coastline and Catalina Island.
An earlier RFP went out in 2019 but died when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
As for current plans, Concern was expressed by Commissioner Ed Renwick, however, who cautioned that the cruise industry was unpredictable, pointing to the political instability of Mexico and crime within that country that has deterred those popular cruise destinations in the recent past.
“One of the big drivers (of the business) leaving us was that no one wanted to go on a cruise to Mexico because in that period of time, it was perceived to be unsafe,” Renwick said. “The cruise business terrifies me because hospitality (sectors) can move and go wherever the business is.”
Some factors are out of the port’s control, he said.
“I would want to make it really explicit (in the bid solicitations),” Renwick said, “that the stated goal is maximum risk mitigation.”
He also pointed to costs and pressures the port is under to transition quickly to a zero-emissions operation.
“We are trying to decarbonize an industry,” Renwick said of the looming deadlines the port faces. “It’s a crazy amount of money that it’s going to take to decarbonize the port, so do we want to take some of that precious cash and invest it in an industry that vaporizes when it vaporizes and comes back when it comes back?
“I want us to be super smart (about this).”
Risk mitigation for the port is a primary focus in the development, Galvin said, adding that the cruise industry at the port had already been growing since before the pandemic and that ships have been outgrowing the port’s allotted space since vessel sizes began increasing in 2018.
There will be further input taken from commissioners before a final RFP is completed and released, Galvin said.
Supports of the proposed project, meanwhile, have said including a convention setting makes the prospect more appealing and financially workable.
“I think we de-risk it by creating a flexible space,” said Commissioner Lee Williams. “I think the time is now.”
The lack of a convention-type gathering spot in San Pedro, as other developments such as AltaSea begin to need and demand those kinds of large spaces, has been cited frequently.
“Creating a convention space as a flexible use,” Williams said, “helps us mitigate the risk.”