Before the Angels came along, Long Beach considered education, arts and convention districts for 13-acre waterfront site
Even before the Angels came along, Long Beach had big plans for the 13-acre waterfront parking lot where a Major League Baseball stadium is now being proposed.
Among a trove of documents that Long Beach released on Monday, May 13, was a five-part presentation on the array of possibilities the so-called “elephant lot” just east of the Convention and Entertainment Center could house, which was compiled in 2017 at the city’s behest.
Along with a potential stadium, it included several other ideas that could still become a reality, should talks with the Angels fall through: an event plaza, an expanded Convention Center, a university extension campus and more.
Long Beach’s Economic Development Director John Keisler said in a Wednesday, May 15, phone interview the city is waiting to hear from the Angels on whether they’d like to move forward on the property before seriously exploring other options — but everything is still on the table.
The presentation was compiled by the San Francisco architecture firm Gensler, which Long Beach hired in June 2017 to assess potential ways the city could develop its waterfront. That contract ended the following May, and the work cost the city a total of $17,000.
Although Long Beach released emails on Monday indicating there were meetings between Long Beach officials and the Angels around that time, Keisler said the two things were unrelated, and the 2017 Angels talks quickly “petered out.”
Keisler said the contract with Gensler came as Long Beach was weighing a new agreement with the Grand Prix, as the racing contract was set to expire in 2018. The City Council wanted to make sure that any new commitment wouldn’t preclude other opportunities — particularly those that might arise along the Grand Prix track, which includes the prized elephant lot.
So, Keisler said, Gensler showed the city what was possible — which, yes, included a Major League Baseball stadium. With that information in hand, Long Beach’s ultimate five-year agreement with the Grand Prix left wiggle room for changes to be made to the track, should new developments arise.
But a baseball stadium wasn’t the only big idea Gensler offered. By analyzing other “great waterfronts,” like Boston, San Francisco and Vancouver, the firm provided three concepts to Long Beach for the area: a sports and entertainment district, an education and cultural district and an entertainment and convention district.
While Long Beach may currently be witnessing the unfurling of that first scenario, Gensler also suggested that an NBA team or a Minor League Baseball team could anchor that kind of development.
An education and cultural district, the firm told the city, could include a new art museum, a science center, an expanded aquarium, or even a college or university extension campus.
As that discussion happened within City Hall, it does not appear that local colleges were in on the idea.
Long Beach State spokesman Jeff Cook said any university occupation of the elephant lot “would not be referring to Cal State Long Beach.”
Long Beach City College, meanwhile, doesn’t have “any formal plans” regarding the property, spokeswoman Stacey Toda said, “but we’re always looking for ways to better service our community.”
The conversation about a convention district, on the other hand, seemed to extend further out into the city.
“Those were just all brainstorming ideas,” Long Beach Convention Center President Steve Goodling said in a Tuesday phone interview. “Outside of the Angels discussion, all of that is still in discussion. It’s many people within the city having a conversation about what all of this could become in the upcoming future years.”
In addition to those proposals, Keisler said he gets at least one new pitch a week for the property: ferris wheels, roller coasters and surfing venues all came to mind.
“We’re telling people, ‘As we’re going through our process, we’ll incorporate your ideas,’” Keisler said. “‘But nobody’s ready to make any decisions about it.’”
As for whether any of those ideas could become a reality, Keisler said it’s possible — but nothing is being as seriously considered as an Angels stadium at this point.
The City Council recently allowed staff to offer a potential deal structure to the Angels, and Keisler said Long Beach will wait for a response before looking at other ideas.
“In good faith, we’re not going to make any other commitments right now, until we hear back,” he said. “If you’re serious, sometimes, you gotta wait.”