Big Money to Make the Port of LA a Center for Marine Research

Although on its hundredth birthday in 2013 Los Angeles, City Dock 1 was a gritty San Pedro wharf with shabby warehouses, biologist Geraldine Knatz, Ph.D., executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, saw potential, and was pushing her plan of turning the 35 waterfront acres into a marine biology research hub.

In October, the L.A. City Council unanimously approved a 50-year lease with nonprofit Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to establish AltaSea, an urban marine research and innovation center. That was a big step, but in an era of city budget cuts, finding funding was daunting, so Knatz enlisted the help of many collaborators including Daniel Pondella, Ph.D. president of the board of directors of the Southern California Marine Institute, a consortium of 12 college and university campuses, and the Annenberg Foundation. Finding a balance between private and public sector demands was challenging, but ultimately the institute committed to being the phase one anchor tenant, and the Port of L.A. provided $57 million in capital improvements while the Annenberg Foundation contributed $25 million.  

According to the Port of Los Angeles, when it’s completed, AltaSea will produce “unprecedented collaboration among government, business, marine science, education and philanthropy for conducting targeted research on marine and ocean-related problems.” The focus for much of the research will be on preserving ocean sustainability in the face of increased population pressure and rising sea levels. The project will be an economic shot in the arm to San Pedro, creating jobs in construction and science, and opportunities for entrepreneurs in a cross-disciplinary, harbor-front environment.

The campus is projected to have numerous oceangoing research vessels, a large wave tank to study Tsunamis and rogue waves, an auditorium for public and college lectures, and high-tech laboratories. The final cost of the project is now estimated to be $500 million, with construction to take place over the next 15-20 years.

“The ocean may be the most precious public resource we have, a life source unlike any other on the planet,” said Wallis Annenberg President and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation. “AltaSea is about uniting business, academia, and our scientific community to turn the Port of LA’s public waterfront into the mecca for jobs and discovery and sustainability that it should be.”

Although last year Knatz left the Port of L.A. to become a professor at the University of Southern California, at a ceremony February 11th she saw AltaSea come closer to fruition. That day, supporters of the project unveiled signs that will rename the section of 22nd Street that leads into the campus for Leonard J. Aube, executive director of the Annenberg Foundation in gratitude for all the work he put into AltaSea. 

Wallis Annenberg topped that news with the announcement that the Annenberg Foundation would match the next $20 million contributed to AltaSea. The crowd cheered her statement, since it brought phase one construction closer to commencement, now slated to begin later this year.