Return of LA Fleet Week in San Pedro attracts massive crowds, optimism for future waterfront occasions – Day by day Breeze

The weather was near perfect.

Traffic? Surprisingly, not too bad.

But if you arrived late in the day during the four-day LA Fleet Week, you may have missed out on landing a ship tour — or even getting inside the expo venue at all.

As Fleet Week returned from the pandemic over Memorial Day weekend in San Pedro, there were plenty of changes to the event that has celebrated the nation’s sea services since 2016, including a permanent calendar shift from Labor Day weekend.

Attendance numbers won’t be available until later, but organizers on Tuesday, May 31, said it seemed to be a good draw. In past years, the four-day event has drawn up to 250,000 people.

“There were long lines and the expo had a good amount of people inside so I thought it was very successful,” said Arley Baker, senior communications director for the Port of Los Angeles.

He deferred to Jonathan Williams, who heads the Fleet Week Foundation, for further comments on attendance. But Williams was busy Tuesday with the massive tear-down job.

He did, however, call the event a success in an email sent out to supporters.

“In my opinion, LA Fleet Week 2022 may be one of the best yet,” he wrote. “The entire LA Waterfront was successfully activated, the event was focused and on point, knowledge was shared between multiple agencies and visiting service members enjoyed an authentic Los Angeles visit.”

But some comments on social media expressed disappointment at not being able to get onto a ship tour, suggesting next year’s event could be better organized. Part of the issue, organizers said, was that crowds tended to show up late in the day.

You’ve made #LAFleetWeek2022 such a success, we’ve reached capacity! With apologies for any inconvenience, we will be closing the lines for both ship tours and the event expo footprint at * 3:30 PM *.

Thank you for your understanding.

— LA Fleet Week® (@LAFleetWeek) May 30, 2022

“What I’d like to look at for next year is encouraging our attendees to come earlier in the day,” said Elise Swanson, president and CEO of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, which provided volunteers for Fleet Week. “You really want to accommodate everyone.”

Crowds especially surged after 2 pm on Sunday and Monday, the last two days of the event.

Baker, however, said one issue seemed less significant than anticipated — traffic.

“I’d say the traffic flow was pretty impressive,” Baker said, crediting the realigned Harbor Boulevard entry, a $15.6 million project completed in 2018 that is designed to provide more seamless access to the future waterfront development, West Harbor.

Baker dubbed himself the “secret shopper” at Fleet Week, riding the trolleys and shuttles, checking out the parking venues and keeping an eye on traffic to see how everything was moving.

“This was our most logistically challenging event after being away for 32 months,” Baker said of the pandemic-induced hiatus in 2020 and 2021, a break that allowed organizers to move forward with the calendar change from Labor Day to Memorial Day weekend.

A big part of the appeal for that change was milder weather.

“The weather was phenomenal,” Baker said, recalling Labor Day Fleet Week events when crowds sweltered in excessively hot temperatures.

The visiting US Navy ships open for tours this year were docked in the Outer Harbor because of a full cruise ship schedule that kept inner harbor slots filled. That required guests to take shuttles from the main expo area near the USS Iowa, which is now gearing up this summer to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the World War II ship’s arrival in San Pedro in 2012.

“All in all, I think we proved we could have a large-scale event even while other things are going on,” Baker said, adding that once West Harbor is open — expected in late 2023 or early 2024 — the entire waterfront will offer events.

Downtown businesses, including restaurants and bars, Swanson said, appeared to rake in extra business during Fleet Week.

“I had a blast,” she said, “and I think it’s only going to get better.”

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