LONG BEACH — After years of infighting and false starts, Port of Long Beach officials voted in closed session Friday to consider moving their headquarters temporarily to a building near the Long Beach Airport.
The Harbor Commission and port executives announced Friday that they plan to look at relocating its more than 300 employees to 4801 Airport Plaza Drive, a building formerly used by the Boeing Co. C-17 program.
The proposed $14.25 million purchase of the 4801 Airport Plaza Drive building is expected to come before the commission for an official vote on Monday.
It will also require City Council approval because the port will have to amend its budget to make the proposed purchase.
If approved, the deal would likely close on Dec. 27 and port staff would move in about six months later, said port Executive Director Christopher Lytle, adding that the port would have to spend about $9 million to renovate the facility.
During that time, the port would be discussing a new, permanent building somewhere in or near downtown, Lytle said.
The board is looking to select the East Long Beach site over the World Trade Center, a downtown building that the port failed to purchase a year ago because it lacked a majority vote of commissioners needed to close the deal.
Friday's announcement was made first to the port staff, who filled the boardroom around 11 a.m., two hours after the Board of Harbor Commissioners met in closed session to discuss the two options.
"I'm relieved that the board has come to a point where we can bring this forward as an item on the agenda on Monday," said Commission President Susan E. Anderson Wise. "I know that everyone is very focused on making a decision that (is in) the best interest of the port and most importantly, to get our employees into a safe working environment."
The building will be bigger than the current headquarters, which the staff has outgrown. Some have been working in trailers and conference rooms, Lytle said.
However, port officials cautioned that the building purchase is not yet a done deal, especially given the port's unpredictable history with relocating its headquarters.
The issue of where to relocate the port staff has long been a source of contention for City Hall and the Port of Long Beach.
Built in 1959, the current building on Harbor Plaza can barely accommodate the port's 300 or so employees and has issues such as earthquake retrofitting requirements, asbestos and lead-based paint that are costly to fix, port officials have said.
So port officials budgeted $220 million for a new headquarters, with the intention to build near its current location. The port invested in designs and an environmental impact report. However, city Mayor Bob Foster vetoed the plan, calling it too expensive.
Then port officials began negotiating with owners of the World Trade Center, and were in escrow with the building's owners.
Many in the community advocated for a downtown move, including Kraig Kojian, head of the Downtown Long Beach Associates, who said losing the port, even temporarily, would be a blow to downtown.
"We would feel the impact, regardless of how long or how short they would be gone," he said.
But city attorneys asked Wise to recuse herself from voting on the deal because she is a subtenant in the 575,000-square-foot building.
Since then, the road to getting this milestone has been tumultuous, punctuated with a letter leaked to the media detailing alleged closed session allegations made by one commissioner against two other commissioners.
Lytle said the important thing is the personal safety of the port staff.
"It gets employees out of a building that's not the safest and allows us to put the employees in a better situation," he said.
The Harbor Commission will meet at 1 p.m. on Monday at 925 Harbor Plaza. Visit polb.com for more.