Tide of Help From All Quarters Rises to Restore Pier

Times Staff Writer

From the grass-roots level to corporate board rooms, divergent interests are united in an effort to rebuild the Huntington Beach Municipal Pier, the centerpiece of the city and its redevelopment effort.

Ever since a severe winter storm racked the pier’s 1,800-foot length and tore off the End Cafe in 1988, small citizens’ organizations, such as the Pier Group, have been raising money a little at a time.

While citizens have been buying grant deeds from the city at $25 apiece for a square foot of the pier, city officials and local elected officials have gone to Sacramento and contacted federal agencies to get millions of dollars in funding.

More recently, developer Rober Mayer hired a professional fund-raiser for the city, Robert B. Sharp Co. Inc., to help find major corporate and individual donors for the pier. Mayer is building the Waterfront Hilton nearby and has plans for several other hotels in the area.

Shops on the Sand

Joining the effort as well is Huntington Beach Tomorrow, a slow-growth group and occasional nemesis of City Hall. The group was instrumental in slowing down Pierside Village, a defunct project to build a four-story thicket of shops and restaurants on the sand just south of the pier.


“A lot of things are going on--behind the scenes, on the legislative level, at the corporate level and at the grass-roots community level,” said former Huntington Beach Mayor Ron Shenkman, head of the city’s pier funding committee.

In the latest step to rebuild the pier, the City Council last week set aside its fiscal conservatism and approved, 3 to 2, conceptual plans for an elaborate two-level plaza and restaurant complex designed by Ron Yeo, a Corona del Mar architect.

The decision shelved an earlier, less ambitious concept to repave, landscape and provide more parking in and around the pier entrance. Council members said the tentative plan was too austere for a city seeking international attention for its soon-to-be overhauled waterfront and downtown.

“No one wants a minimalist pier with a concrete drive and a simple front,” Councilman John Erskine said. “We retained Yeo to do something a little more exciting there, and we got it.”

Huntington Beach Tomorrow, which has supported the pier reconstruction from the start, raved about certain aspects of the plaza design because the plan didn’t intrude on the beach or block views from Pacific Coast Highway.

“We are very impressed with how (Yeo) approached our pier,” said Loretta Wolfe, president of the organization. “He took in some of the architecture of the past and the lines on the pier and buildings out there now. He wants people-centered areas.”

Councilmen Jim Silva and Don MacAllister voted against the plaza, saying it was impractical, too expensive and would detract from the city’s top priority--reconstruction of the pier.

“I have serious doubts to the tune of $7 million,” Silva said. “It would be a white elephant, just a huge slab of concrete where surfers would write their names in surf wax. Let’s not muddy the water with a plaza when we have a pier to build.”

Although final plans for the plaza have yet to be approved, Yeo’s concept calls for an amphitheater, display areas for arts and crafts, a long-awaited surfing museum, viewpoints for the public and a complex of restaurants offering everything from corn dogs to upscale cuisine.

Yeo said the architecture will be a blend of Art Deco and designs by the old federal Works Progress Administration, an agency that built thousands of public works projects to provide jobs during the Depression.

The plaza will span about 150 yards across the front of the pier and cost $2 million to $7 million. No timetable has been established for construction.

Local business people, city officials, developers and citizens see the 76-year-old pier as the anchor of the tourist trade and a 336-acre redevelopment effort that includes numerous hotels, condominiums, shops and restaurants along Pacific Coast Highway.

The city’s vision for its downtown dimmed 1 1/2 years ago when a severe storm tore away the End Cafe, along with 200 feet of pier. Officials declared the aging structure unsafe in July, 1988, and closed it.

Plans for the pier are being finished by Moffatt & Nichol, a Long Beach engineering firm. Construction is scheduled to begin in June or July. City officials say the landmark is the priority and that work on the plaza will not begin until the pier is financed.

“The plaza will be built if the funds are available,” said Huntington Beach City Administrator Paul Cook. “It is a new idea which was just adopted in concept only.”

The city has about half of the $11 million cost of a new pier: City officials have pledged $3 million from the general fund, and the county has offered $1.5 million. Another $1.5 million in funding is awaiting the governor’s signature, and a second bill for the same amount is pending in the Legislature.

Councilman Tom Mays said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has promised the city at least $750,000 and might be able to provide about $1.5 million. The state Coastal Conservancy, an agency that protects marine resources and landmarks, has earmarked $500,000 for the city.

City officials say the rest of the money will come from private donations. Raising that private money, Silva says, would be difficult if the plaza is part of that effort.

“It will cause finding money for the pier to lose momentum. I have talked to people who just want to see the pier rebuilt,” Silva said. “If public hearings were held on the plaza today, it would be voted down.”

But Mays and Erskine said the pier is the fund-raising priority and that the plaza ultimately might be financed by a bond issue because state and local funding is unavailable today.

Robert B. Sharp, the fund-raising consultant, said he would study the potential impact on private contributions if the pier and plaza are presented to the public as a package. He said, however, that there might be no shortage of donations for both.

Despite some reliance on private donations from developers and prominent citizens, Erskine said the pier and plaza would remain a municipal facility.

“It’s clearly a public project,” he said. “The fund-raising specialist would raise money for the pier with no strings attached. Those dollars will be turned over to Huntington Beach for construction.”

Huntington Beach Pier Plaza The city of Huntington Beach has approved conceptual plans for a two-story plaza and entrance for the municipal pier. The design by architect Ron Yeo includes an amphitheater, a surfing museum, a restaurant complex, sports facilities and viewing areas. City officials say construction of the plaza will not begin until after a new pier is built. Source: Ron Yeo, FAIA architect