After more than two decades of hopeful talk, actual revitalization began occurring two years ago on the long-neglected Redondo Beach waterfront. It began at the pier.
The first major change to occur – on the ground, not just conceptually – was a $1 million reinvestment and rebuilding of the pier’s biggest leasehold. Pier Landing, the most visually prominent component of the century-old pier, was rebuilt by master lessee Bob Resnick to hearken back to the pier’s origins as Wharf #1 in 1889. Pier Landing was more than just a facelift: it immediately spawned several new businesses, including a new coffee shop and gelato café, and its history-themed picnic area created a sense of vibrancy that had been missing for the better part of a half-century.
The Redondo Pier, circa 1960s. Courtesy Redondo Beach Historical Society
Within a week in August, both the Pier Landing and the city’s new $2 million Harbor Patrol facility were unveiled, lending a long-absent air of optimism for the future of the waterfront. Meanwhile, as Mike Zislis moved forward with plans for the $21 million boutique Shade Hotel, across the street, the Crowne Plaza Hotel worked on more than $16 million in upgrades.
“The city is poised to put itself back on the map, like it used to be,” Resnick said. “It’s an exciting new chapter in the history of Redondo Beach.”
Since then, another Harbor Drive hotel, Best Western, has invested $10 million in renovations. This year, Pier Landing landed a signature tenant, the regionally famed pub from West LA, Barney’s Beanery, in its most visible leasehold, upstairs at the foot of the pier.
Smoke engulfed the Redondo Beach Pier on May 27, 1988.
Mayor Steve Aspel says Barney’s arrival was a signal to local residents that it was time to come back to the pier.
“Lots of locals who wouldn’t have come to the pier before because they actually believed in bad press, when Barney’s came in, they started coming down here,” Aspel said. “If I walked up there right now, I guarantee you I’d know four or five people that we normally see in Riviera Village or Hermosa. People come from all around.”
Barney’s Beanery at the Redondo Pier has opened.
The pier’s last heyday was in the middle of the last century, when hours-long waiting lines regularly formed outside the original Tony’s at the Pier. But it has struggled mightily since a 1988 fire destroyed more than half the structure, including a “restaurant row” that Aspel said he would come from his native Marina Del Rey as a young man to visit.
“We’d go there on date night,” he said. “There were so many nice restaurants on that pier. You’d come here instead of Santa Monica.”
Waterfront and harbor director Pete Carmichael points to a quieter, more unexpected success that has occurred since the pier was upgraded — a sharp increase in occupancy at Pier Plaza, the office park above the parking structure built by the city after the pier fire that has often been described as a “white elephant” as it struggled with high vacancy rates.
“Office occupancy has gone from 65 percent to 98 percent since we did this,” Carmichael said. “I’m not saying that’s all facade improvements…but it was a ghost town a few years ago.”
That uptick has been accompanied by a 40 percent increase in parking revenue in the pier parking structure. “It all starts to run up together — you know, people come down for lunch, because all the offices are full,” Carmichael said.
The north part of the pier — the so-called Horseshoe Pier — is part of the proposed 35 acre CenterCal development. The city has followed a business plan laid out by adviser Larry Kosmont in 2007, leaving many of the small businesses in this part of the pier on month-to-month leases in order to aggregate and create a large tract to attract a larger developer, as it has with CenterCal. As a result, some longtime local businesses have already left — including Shark Attack, a gift shop run by Judy Milner, who as a business operator had survived fires, storms, and economic stagnation but could not weather revitalization without a longer term lease.
The idea was that true revitalization could not occur with a smaller, piecemeal approach, but instead required a sweeping overhaul of the entire waterfront. Accordingly, the city also bought three leaseholds — the International Boardwalk, Pier Plaza, and most recently the Redondo Beach Marina — for more than $20 million. All will be folded into CenterCal’s development.
“The council took a really entrepreneurial approach,” said Carmichael, who was recruited from the private sector to oversee the revitalization project three years ago. “They were willing to go out and borrow money to acquire properties. That is not a public sector thing to do, and that has paid off in spades, both in the short term — we are getting better cash flow out of those properties than we were before we bought them — and the long term.”
Tony Trutanich, the son of the founder of Old Tony’s and its current owner, isn’t worried about the changes CenterCal CEO Fred Bruning has proposed.
“Fred is a local guy — he embraces the khakis and Hawaiian shirt motif that the South Bay embodies,” said Trutanich. “From the meetings I’ve had with him he seems to really understand the importance and historical value Old Tony’s brings the community.”
Trutanich is only hesitant about a possible change of location to the end of the pier.
“On the surface it would seem like a good move to be at the end where you can see sailboats go by but, to this day, I remember the main reason why my dad chose to put Old Tony’s where it is,” Trutanich said. “He said that having Old Tony’s where the waves hit the shoreline gives the customers something to look at and hear. Because what better noise is there on the planet than waves crashing?”
Aspel believes the demise of pier has, in some sense, been a case of perception over reality.
“Ever since the 1980s, when it was rebuilt, the pier got a bad reputation,” Aspel said. “And a lot of it, I think people are semi-racist — if they don’t see a bunch of white people, they think there is a problem. Come here on a late Saturday night — it’s very nice, and it’s very safe.”
“We want people to come here, and not Manhattan or Hermosa,” Aspel added. “Spend your money in Redondo.”
Other investments have also come to the area, even to properties slated for demolition, due to a feeling that the Redondo waterfront has turned a significant corner. George Loren took over the restaurant lease at the end of the International Boardwalk and built a gastropub, R-10 Social House, as means of being a part of the larger revitalization.
“CenterCal is looking for existing operators who have proven their viability to fill their plan so we opened R10 to be a part of it,” Loren said. “I like the feel and style of what the project offers, and I think R10 fits into that really well.”
“I am a fifth generation Redondo resident, born and raised,” Loren said. “ My grandfather was in school in Redondo in 1907. I know what Redondo was like in the early 1900s — it was the heart of the South Bay. I think this project will get us back to that, and we’re really looking forward to it.”