Manhattan Beach Gets Bullet Train & Downtown Development

By Dave Fratello | April 1st, 2016

Manhattan Beach has been awarded a coveted station stop along the state's radically revamped bullet train line.

City officials revealed the plans for the first time today, along with state and federal authorities, touting economic and structural benefits to our beach town.

The bullet train project will include a mixed-use tower offering parking, shopping and restaurants right at the entry to downtown Manhattan Beach, where the Von's market stands today.

Dubbed a "Vertical Downtown," the tower project will have 12 stories in total, with 8 stories above ground. It will help solve downtown's parking issues, city officials said, while introducing our "small-town character" to many thousands more visitors each year from all over the state.

"Best of all," Mayor Mark Burton said today, "our local taxpayers will pay next to nothing for this massive infrastructure development. We got the state and feds to pony up, and Manhattan Beach gets all the benefits."

With all of the plans and ordinances in place – mostly developed out of public view – construction begins this Fall, with great urgency, along much of the former rail line coursing between Ardmore and Valley Drive.

It is this unpaved stretch of dirt, now covered with wood chips and used mainly by joggers and dog-walkers, that city planners have long considered to be under-utilized. No more.

Manhattan Beach's new station project was just one of a series unveiled this week by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, in an effort to kick-start the flailing rail system.

Most importantly, the new routes and stations are designed to be more economically viable than those publicly announced before now. Manhattan Beach was chosen as the only South Bay city for a station partly for its location along the new route, which will make it a popular destination for tourists. But rail planners also see Manhattan Beach residents as likely to ride the rails regularly for business and pleasure, keeping up a steady income stream for the operation of the system as a whole.

It will be possible to travel from the new downtown Manhattan Beach train station to San Jose in about 100 minutes on an express, and all the way to San Francisco in about two hours. The ride south to Newport Beach will take just 25 minutes, and to San Diego, 70 minutes total. The high speeds are possible thanks to more direct routes and an extensive right-of-way purchase program that's been going on beneath the radar for approximately 6 years, state officials have now revealed.

"Let's be honest," one rail authority source said, "the publicly announced routes were never going to work. If we couldn't overcome local opposition to Plan A, we have always had this Plan B, where state and federal law allows us to literally impose a solution."

"Truthfully," the source said, "this is the best route with the best stations, with Manhattan Beach as a key. On this plan, though, there's no debate. It's a done deal."

Local officials support the greenbelt train line, but consider the jewel of package to be the new 12-story structure at the corner of Valley Drive and Manhattan Beach Blvd. on the current sites of the Von's and Union Bank.

Years' worth of start-and-stop negotiations with owners of those parcels led nowhere, so both plots were acquired by eminent domain.

Mayor Burton cautioned that the tower is not as big as it sounds.

"People may get hung up talking about 12 stories," he said, "but the fact is that four stories are underground, mainly parking. Meantime, the eight stories above ground will make this a landmark visible from Redondo Beach or Palos Verdes, from ships out at sea, from jetliners leaving LAX. Maybe you'll even see it from space! This building will really put us on the map. And the ocean views from up there will be killer."

The tower's northwest portions, facing MB Blvd. and the Pacific and nicknamed the "Vertical Downtown," will consist mainly of shops and restaurants, all with panoramic ocean views unheard of from any other boutique or watering hole downtown.

To keep the flavor local, Mayor Burton said, no chains will be allowed in the tower.

State and local officials acknowledged that much of the planning for all of the huge changes just now coming to light was unusually secretive. This was necessary, they said, to acquire land and to make deals with city officials in several jurisdictions before residents could step in and possibly disrupt the plans piece by piece – a fate that had threatened the bullet train project in north and central California.

All plans are now considered final, with confidential contractor bids successfully chosen and funds flowing already into the project locally. The first trains should roll no later than April 1, 2018.

"The secrecy was killing me," Mayor Burton said, "but the prize for all of Manhattan Beach is so very much worth it."

Mayor Burton concluded, "We will all look back at this day, April the First, 2016, and say 'that was the day our little town was transformed.' For the better, I think."


Did we "fool" you with this April Fool's post? Don't worry, you're not alone. See DigMB's story with more about how it came together.


More Coverage: See locals' responses in DigMB's story, "MB Residents React to Downtown Bullet Train Plan."

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