By Joshua H. Silavent - Staff Writer
December 18, 2012 - Jayme Wilson, 60, has seen a lot of changes in the harbor area since launching Spirit Cruises three decades ago. He’s seen the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles grow enormously, just as he’s seen the size of the vessels entering the seaport grow larger and larger. He’s seen businesses in San Pedro come and go. He’s seen the evolution of Long Beach’s waterfront, even pitching in on the planning of Rainbow Harbor.
“The change is amazing,” Wilson said, adding that the best has come in the improved water and air quality in the harbor communities. More dolphins are seen in the harbor these days, he said, and clear views of Santa Catalina Island are more common.
But, like many Americans of his generation, there was one thing Wilson’s eyes couldn’t quite believe. “Clearly, the recession was something that I had never seen before in my life,” he said.
Sales and passenger counts at Spirit Cruises, which has operations in both San Pedro and Long Beach, dropped off precipitously when the economy tanked, and though things have improved markedly the last two years, business has not yet reached pre-recession levels.
Because Long Beach’s economy is so focused on conventions and tourism, it was hurt worse than San Pedro, Wilson said, though every one in every community felt the force of economic constraints.
But now business is bouncing back at Spirit, with bookings for high school field trips, weddings and company retreats on the mend. “We’ve been very lucky that everything is inching forward,” Wilson said.
Of course, redevelopment is en vogue once more. The Port of Los Angeles is currently sifting through proposals from eight commercial real estate developers vying to remake the 30-acre Ports O’ Call Village on the San Pedro Waterfront.
A man who wears many hats and has his hands in many endeavors – Wilson has been president of a chamber of commerce, sat on planning commission and redevelopment boards, and even ran a campaign, albeit unsuccessful, for a city council seat representing San Pedro – Wilson is also the owner of the Ports O’ Call restaurant, the 25,000-square-foot flagship property in the village.
It’s unclear what will happen to the restaurant when the port proceeds with redevelopment of the area, likely sometime in 2015, but major changes are certainly coming.
Wilson said he has been advocating for redevelopment for a long time, and that he’s happy to finally see the port moving on it with plans, for example, to construct a promenade along the waterfront stretch at the village. “I think it’s very important to make these improvements and make public access more available on the water,” he added.
Wilson also sees redevelopment having a positive impact on the San Pedro community, something that is already occurring with marina and parks projects now complete in the area. “I think the Port of L.A. is stepping up to make sure that economic growth benefits the surrounding area and not just the strip along the water,” he said.
But Wilson also is hopeful that his restaurant can be a part of the redevelopment, rather than it being razed to make way for an entirely new establishment. “I believe that every waterfront on the West Coast and East Coast, when they do their revitalization . . . they don’t tear down their anchor restaurants,” he said. “I think you build on successes; you don’t tear down successes.”
Wilson, who grew up in Long Beach and moved to San Pedro just eight years ago, has spent his life making the harbor area an attraction for visitors to and residents of Southern California. With his ear to the ground, he has made it his calling to share this unrivaled destination with the world. “I’ve been very involved in a lot of different things, which has really allowed me to connect with people and better understand how to serve them,” he said.
But what is it, really, that makes the seaport and harbor such a special place to visit? Wilson thinks he knows – that is, if anyone can relate to what piques his own interest. “I like the contrast between the serenity of the early mornings along the water versus the hustle and bustle of the industrial giant that we are,” he said.
So what’s next for Wilson? He said he’d like to add a larger yacht to his fleet, perhaps something capable of holding 400 passengers. But wherever he goes and whatever he does, you can bet that he won’t stray far from the harbor. The future holds too many possibilities, but this seems as certain as the sun rising tomorrow.
“I feel good that things are improving and I can see it in people’s faces,” Wilson said.