Catalina Terminal moves to new home

It took three men and one 60-passenger vessel to spark a lifetime of journeys with the Catalina Express.

It was a simple need, really, to have quick and reliable transportation to and from the Island on a regular basis.

Now 30 years later, the journey continues as the founders of the company step into a new chapter and a new home.

Greg Bombard, president of the Catalina Express, knew the San Pedreo terminal needed a change.

It took three men and one 60-passenger vessel to spark a lifetime of journeys with the Catalina Express.

It was a simple need, really, to have quick and reliable transportation to and from the Island on a regular basis.

Now 30 years later, the journey continues as the founders of the company step into a new chapter and a new home.

Greg Bombard, president of the Catalina Express, knew the San Pedreo terminal needed a change.

After years of brainstorming and planning, Bombard decided to relocate to the adjacent building that housed former seaplane hangers. Where the Grumman Goose landed and dispatched regularly to the Island, is now the inviting realm of the Catalina Sea and Air Terminal in San Pedro. The new terminal, which began construction in mid February, has a cool “urban buzz” with a style of its own, said architect Ed Quental of Watermark Development.

Passengers enter through a towering entryway surrounded by Phoenix palm trees, and continue to the Spanish mission-style building that has a refreshing contemporary twist. The atmosphere is relaxing and inviting, which was an important goal to reach for Bombard.

Bombard said the biggest challenge with the former terminal was that passengers were confined to a closed-off building with no real views of the outside marina.

“There was no windows, no one ever saw anything. You missed the experience,” said Bombard.

Both buildings were built in 1966, one of which was used to accommodate the SS Catalina and other smaller vessels serving the Island, according to Elaine Vaughan, Catalina Express vice president.

While the old terminal measures 25,000 square feet, the new terminal has a current footprint of 7,500 square feet with adjacent outdoor land of 18,000 square feet.

“This is a big change from the 25,000 square feet of all indoor space from which we have be operating,” said Vaughan. “We are taking advantage of the new outdoor space with its wide open view of the harbor to present a relaxing and peaceful option to passengers compared to the waiting area inside of the old terminal.”

After three decades of service, the former terminal will be torn down within a month to make way for the expansion of China Shipping, according to Bombard.

Passengers will now have access to an array of new services and past times in the waiting area of the terminal.

The plaza-style outside is fully equipped with benches and tables, a putting area for golfers, and bocce ball courts.

To the north side is a majestic background of the Vincent Thomas Bridge and view of the channel. To the south, a view of the USS Iowa battleship and a squint-worthy view of Catalina Island.

The helicopter runways are adjacent to the terminal, so there’s even room to “fly people in for their wedding and fly them out to Catalina right after,” Bombard said. “Now people have all the opportunity to watch ships coming and going. People can come even if they don’t go to Catalina.”

Wining and Dining

Passengers and townspeople alike have the chance to also grab a bite to eat in the new Express Grille and Catalina Bistro, something that was not envisioned in the original terminal.

Bombard said that the company hopes to inspire people who come dine at the terminal to visit Catalina.

Express Grille, led by Chef Laurel Lyman, will serve full breakfast, salads, burgers, and other cuisines for anyone who visits. Bombard said people who wish to dine have access to waiter service, but there will also be an outside access window of the Grille for those in a rush. In addition to the Express Grille, Catalina Bistro is another anticipated hot spot.

An enchanting glass-window beer and wine bar provides passengers with full service and flat screen TVs.

Bombard said he intended the glass walls to provide sunlight throughout the building.

Gary Miltimore, Catalina’s renowned artist, provided his artwork to be featured in the lounge, as well as in the background of the ticketing area. His pieces add to the regal style of high-ceilings and black old-fashioned chandeliers.

Quental said he and Bombard wanted to create a beautiful yet comfortable place. “We want it to be inviting so people can come relax in shorts and flips flop,” Quental said. “Greg (Bombard) is intuitive about what’s the right thing to do. He knows his customers and he can deliver more to them now.”

How it happened

According to Vaughan, it took over nine years of planning to get the ball rolling. Approximately $2.8 million was invested in this rededication project and about $800,000 from the Port of Los Angeles. Vaughan said the Port was contributed in enhanced parking and, the piling foundation that supports the Catalina Express docks and floats.

Bombard and Vaughan expect to boost business and hopefully make the terminal a local attraction.

“The amenities of this port will boost the reputation of the long time Catalina seaport here in San Pedro,” said Vaughan. “The new, upgraded, modern facility with all of its outdoor charm and its refined food service should impress and bring business to the area.”

“It’s a relief to know that we have a stable position on a deep water harbor for the next 25 years. I look forward to working to establish this port in the community and to present the enhanced passenger experience that we built here,” Vaughan said.

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