In the very near future, the administrative offices of the Port of Long Beach will temporarily move several miles inland to a location just east of the Long Beach Airport. On Monday, Nov. 5, the Board of Harbor Commissioners voted to approve the purchase of an office building once occupied by departments of the Boeing Corporation. “The current Port Administration building at 925 Harbor Plaza was built in 1959, is overcrowded and does not meet today’s seismic standards,” said Art Wong, Port of Long Beach assistant director of communications/public information officer, in a statement issued shortly after the board’s decision. “The Harbor Commission has placed a priority on moving Port staff out of the current location because of overcrowding and safety concerns.”
According to Wong, the Port’s administrative staff currently operates in the offices contained in the seven-story, 125,000-square-foot building at Harbor Plaza. Staff will move to the offices of the eight-story, 175,000-square foot building, located at 4810 Airport Plaza, sometime next year. That building was constructed in 1987.
“I am relieved that we have identified a secure, temporary home,” said Board President Susan Anderson Wise. “Regardless of what address we have, this port will continue to be a leader in the shipping industry.”
Wise and commissioners Rich Dines, Doug Drummond and Nick Sramek voted in favor of purchasing the Airport Plaza building. Board Vice President Thomas Fields voted against it.
Wong noted that the Port of Long Beach encompasses 3,200 acres of land, and about 30 companies currently lease parcels of that acreage. “They have to be US-based companies to lease land from the Port, but they can be owned by another entity outside this country,” he said, adding that the Port does not maintain a count as to how many of the companies are owned by foreign entities.
He further explained that about 5,000 ships visit the Port each year, and about six million cargo container units moved through the Port in 2011. “More than 40 percent of the imports coming from overseas comes through the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles,” Wong said. “Nearly half of those (or about 20 percent of all imports) come through the Port of Long Beach.”
Wise stressed that the move is temporary and discussions will soon begin on building a permanent headquarters near downtown Long Beach. That announcement seemed to reassure Long Beach Vice Mayor/1st District City Councilmember Robert Garcia and 2nd District Councilmember Suja Lowenthal, who very much want the Port’s permanent administrative offices to be located in downtown Long Beach.
“While we are disappointed that the Port of Long Beach will temporarily relocate out of downtown, we strongly support the Harbor Commission’s intention to build a new, world-class port headquarters in downtown,” the two councilmembers declared in a joint statement issued three days before the board’s decision. “It is essential that our new port headquarters be located in close proximity to the Port and other related maritime businesses and organizations currently found downtown.”
Lowenthal later contacted the Signal Tribune by phone to elaborate. “It’s very clear that with modern communications technologies, we can do our jobs from anywhere in the world, and that is certainly true for the administrative staff of the Port of Long Beach,” she said. “But it is important symbolically for the port administration to be near its customers and near City Hall.”
The 2nd District councilmember explained that having port administrative staff geographically close to the shipping companies and terminal operators that use the port creates a synergy and a sense of community which almost always result in more efficient operations. “We also want to include the Port’s administrative offices in our civic corridor,” she added. “We should have City Hall, the police department, the fire department, and the court building all in the same corridor, and having the Port’s offices in that corridor is important because the Port is really a part of our municipal family.”
Lowenthal noted that having the 350 Port employees working downtown would also be good for businesses in that area. “The downtown restaurants and other retail establishments need a critical mass of customers in order to really be successful,” she said. “Right now, we do not have that critical mass, and having those Port employees working downtown during regular business hours would move us closer to having a thriving downtown.”
She added that Port employees also have the option of moving into any of the recently completed downtown residential developments. “That would eliminate the need for them to commute to work,” she said, adding that even employees who lived elsewhere could avail themselves of the Blue Line and Long Beach Transit buses that go directly to downtown Long Beach. “That would help ease traffic congestion,” she said. “There are just a lot of good reasons for the port headquarters to be located downtown.”
According to Wong, the purchase price for the new building is $14.25 million, and the board expects to spend another $9 million in renovations. He added that the closing date for escrow is Dec. 27.