New $2.1M grant helps AltaSea take another step in San Pedro

By Donna Littlejohn | | Daily Breeze

A $2.1 million state grant will provide a public area in what will be a science Discovery Center building on the AltaSea campus at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. The Southern California Marine Institute (SCMI), an alliance of 23 major universities, colleges, and foundations in Southern California, will work within the Discovery Center providing marine research and education. (Courtesy rendering: Gensler)

A $2.1 million grant announced this week gives a boost to AltaSea’s plan for a science center that will be constructed as part of the marine research campus.

The grant was awarded by the state to be used for a visitors’ portion of what will be called the Center of Discovery on Berth 57 at AltaSea, an ambitious project now setting up operations near Warehouse One along San Pedro’s Outer Harbor.

The Center of Discovery will be a state-of-the-art research facility and future home to the Southern California Marine Institute, a consortium of 23 universities and colleges. The state grant, which covers what will be the “front door” public access portion of that building, comes from the voter-approved Proposition 68 for competitive grants that protect, restore and enhance California’s cultural, community and natural resources.

Tim McOsker, CEO of AltaSea, said the selection process was rigorous.

“We look forward to returning the value of these bond funds to the people of the state of California” through the new center, he said.

The Center of Discovery science building, according to the AltaSea website, will “provide a home for the world’s top scientists to conduct breakthrough ocean-related research and discover solutions to environmental problems.”

Plans call for the 35-acre campus to feature seawater laboratories, offices, a lecture hall, and an interpretive center.

In May 2016, the global architectural and design firm Gensler unveiled its vision for the design of the campus that is being developed on one of San Pedro’s historic piers and will make use of a string of adapted World War II-era warehouses.

Based on conceptual designs, the Center of Discovery science building will cost about $35 million. McOsker said. The $2.1 million will pay for the north side visitor area and a linear park with gardens along the eastern side of the building promenade and is expected to be finished by December 2021.

The grant will pay for a 5,892 square-foot presentation, lecture hall and event space in the front of the Discovery Center, forming a public-facing gateway to the entire campus.

Negotiations, McOsker said, are ongoing with potential funders for the rest of the discovery/science center building as the project’s first phase continues to be pieced together. The entire project, which will include three buildings — this one will be the middle structure — is anticipated to be done in 2025, he said.

The finished campus will provide space for ocean researchers and scientists, along with education and business incubators. Some  research has begun on the location and several tenants already have signed on, including Robert Ballard’s research vessel Nautilus and Boeing’s Echo Voyager. Also onboard is the La Kretz Blue Economy Incubator which will focus on linking in technology companies to create new business models connecting to the ocean.

First envisioned by former Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz, AltaSea’s launch was with a 2007 grant from the Annenberg Foundation and a 50-year lease for City Dock No. 1, constructed in 1913. The lease was signed by the Los Angeles harbor department in 2013 and included a $57 million capital investment for site rehabilitation by the port.

Early fundraising, however, proved slow in the early years.

Initially, the entire project was priced at $500 million but an amended lease approved in 2017 brought the overall costs down significantly, now at around $150 million, and accelerated the building schedule. The biggest savings came after tenants weighed in, telling AltaSea that the renovated warehouses, which will make up the third building on the campus, didn’t need many of the embellishments originally planned.

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