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Developers for Long Beach, California's Proposed $362 million Seaside Village
Project Believe Suggested Scaling Down of Plans Would Kill the Project

By Paul Eakins, Press-Telegram, Long Beach, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Apr. 28, 2010--LONG BEACH -- Cutting back on the proposed "seaside village" development at Second Street and Pacific Coast Highway, as suggested by an environmental impact report released last week, would kill the project, the developers said Tuesday.

According to the EIR, the project that would replace the Seaport Marina Hotel should be half of the size and density that is proposed in order to limit environmental effects, particularly on traffic and air quality.

On the other hand, the EIR notes that reducing the scope of the project could affect its economic viability and the amount of revenue that would be generated for the city -- estimated by the developers at $2.8 million annually.

"As the study suggests, it's not financially feasible," David Malmuth, who is partnering with Clifford Ratkovich to develop the site, said of the scaled-down alternative. "What you end up with is a glorified strip mall with some residence."

Sitting in the Seaport Marina Hotel on Tuesday, Malmuth and Ratkovich said the EIR doesn't factor in the community benefits of the project, such as replacing an aging and unattractive hotel with a modern, high-end hotel, residential and retail development.

"The feeling of the community having to look at this hotel (Seaport Marina) -- that doesn't get analyzed by the EIR," Malmuth said.

The proposed development would contain several buildings, including a 12-story residential tower, and would encompass 822,500

square feet. The village would have 220,000 square feet of upscale retail outlets and restaurants; a 100-room boutique hotel; 95 condominiums and an additional 230 for-sale residences designed as a mix of lofts, flats and town homes; a 99-seat Cal Repertory Theater; and a coastal science learning center.

The smaller-scale alternative suggested by the EIR would reduce the density of the project and lower the allowable height to no more than three stories for most of the development and no more than six stories for the tower. In that iteration, the theater and coastal science center would be removed, which Malmuth said is among several drawbacks to scaling back the development.

On the financial side, the developers said that slashing the size of the project in half doesn't mean the $362 million price tag would also be halved.

Many requirements, such as providing infrastructure, would change very little regardless of the development's size, which means that recouping the investment on the smaller project would be more difficult, they said.

In particular, Malmuth and Ratkovich said that chopping the residential tower down from 12 stories to six would take out some of the most valuable components of the project. The higher that a condominium is located, the more it typically costs, Ratkovich said.

Ratkovich added that in order to attract high-end shops to the village, the project needs a "critical mass" of at least 200,000 square feet of retail space. Similarly, he said a 50-room hotel isn't a feasible business model these days.

On the traffic and air quality impacts, Malmuth and Ratkovich said they are doing what they can to mitigate those, such as with "green," LEED-certified buildings and efforts to incorporate bicycle and public transportation at the village. They also said the EIR failed to acknowledge another traffic mitigation effort being pursued -- the synchronization of traffic lights in the area to improve the flow of traffic.

Another concern that has been raised is how the project might affect the nearby Los Cerritos Wetlands.

Elizabeth Lambe, executive director of the Los Cerritos Land Trust, said Monday that she is against changing zoning on the site to accommodate the proposed development and said that the current hotel could be replaced with a new one of a similar size.

Malmuth said he doesn't understand how the development would impact the wetlands, and suggested that it could even benefit them by using the coastal science learning center to stage tours of the nature area.

The developers also showed an artist's rendering of a possible plan to partner with the city to beautify Studebaker Road by the wetlands with landscaping and placing utility lines underground. They even said they wouldn't rule out contributing money to the wetlands' restoration, which they said would benefit their project as well by improving the area's appearance.

The development still must be approved by the Planning Commission, the City Council and the California Coastal Commission, but the developers said they believe the majority of the public -- about two-thirds of those in the area, according to a poll they had conducted -- support the project.

Opponents are always vocal, Ratkovich said, but the developers need proponents' voices to be heard.

"We know without a shadow of a doubt that there is overwhelming support for this project," Ratkovich said.

paul.eakins@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1278

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Copyright (c) 2010, Press-Telegram, Long Beach, Calif.

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