As one of downtown San Pedro’s most prominent buildings closed escrow last week, nearly a dozen other commercial properties are up for sale in and around the historic shopping district.
The refurbished historic Arcade Building at 479 W. Sixth St. closed escrow this week for close to the $2.9 million asking price. It had been on the market only since mid-March. The Harbor Area buyers have a love for the art deco period of architecture and decor, according to the real estate agent involved in the sale.
“While a bit nostalgic given the sale, I believe it’s in good hands with the new ownership, who will now carry on the stewardship of this little gem,” said Laurie Wixted who is familiar with the building and its longtime owners, Gary and Lynn Larson.
Development has seen a spike also in San Pedro, with work on a mixed-use, 375-apartment complex at 550 S. Palos Verdes St. on the outskirts of downtown underway. Other residential projects are planned only blocks from that.
Meanwhile, one longtime landlord, Warren Gunter, has listed several of his downtown properties for sale.
Is the port town, which has long struggled to become more tourist-friendly, finally turning a corner?
Those who have lived or opened businesses in San Pedro, however, have heard it all before.
But a growing buzz about San Pedro — with the coming of SpaceX, AltaSea and a new Ports O’ Call waterfront development — has generated media coverage throughout the region that has rekindled hopes that this time will be different.
The hot real estate market is another driving force, according to Gunter.
“The real estate market is absolutely nuts,” said Gunter, who said the high prices being seen in residential real estate also are occurring in the commercial and industrial sectors. “It’s crazy. Multiple, multiple offers.”
Gunter said he’s in no hurry to sell his commercial properties on Sixth Street downtown.
“I don’t expect any serious action on these until the 550 Palos Verdes Street and the old courthouse [redevelopment] projects are completed,” said Gunter who arrived in San Pedro in 1972, went into business in 1978 and operated a jewelry store in downtown for many years.
He’s now a board member for the downtown-waterfront Business Improvement District.
Gary Larson, who restored the Arcade Building in the 1980s, said he’d expected the break out to happen long before this.
“It still defies logic that a waterfront city with stunning views, character, rich history, perfect weather and great folks has not been discovered,” he said in emailed comments about the sale of his building.
Hopes have been dashed before, Gunter said, going all the way back to the city’s redevelopment in the late 1960s and early 1970s following the demolition of Beacon Street.
“Things looked a little better after that but it didn’t really change the old downtown,” he said. “Then, we had The Vue and the Bank [Lofts] condos on Mesa and Eighth [streets] that had to be converted to apartments because of the economic downturn. It helped a little bit, but it wasn’t magical. I just kept thinking sooner or later something’s going to happen and people are going to discover San Pedro.”
New housing a growing factor
One of the keys now, he said, is L.A.’s affordable housing shortage coupled with several new housing developments coming into the port area.
“I’ve never been a big proponent of housing curing business ills,” Gunter said. “But I think what’s happening with 555 Palos Verdes, and hopefully the courthouse build-out, is that the investment of big money will trigger some other activity in downtown.”
The SpaceX rocket and spaceship facility coming to Terminal Island could help fill vacant office space on the San Pedro side, he said, and the new San Pedro Public Market, the plans for which strike him as uninspired so far, also should generate more interest.
Much will depend on the town pushing forward as an arts, dining and entertainment destination in an era when brick-and-mortar retail is dying, he said, noting that its isolated location continues to be one of the biggest hurdles San Pedro must overcome.
“If people are going to drive in from Arcadia, you’ve got to have something special,” he said. “What if we had a re-creation of old Beacon Street and some activities? I think people would come to see that. They’re not going to come to stroll along the waterfront. They can do that anywhere.”
Gunter is hopeful but says his decision to sell his properties expresses his belief that “it’s time to let someone else carry the torch.”
“I hope it’s going to happen. Still, I’m not sure it’s going to happen,” he said of San Pedro’s future success. “But between the [Battleship] Iowa and if and when the new Ports O’ Call gets done — and with some good marketing and good restaurants — it’s going to get better.”