The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach’s race weekend is officially over and crews will now tear down the track’s infrastructure over the next few weeks, but what could that process look like if and when the city’s largest oceanfront parcel of land is developed?

Known as the “Elephant Lot” because of the circus’ use of the parcel to put on its annual show in past decades, the 13-acre lot serves as a staging area for race crews during the Grand Prix, among other uses, but is also sort of an anomaly as one of the largest parcels of prime land that has remained undeveloped.

Developing the Elephant Lot, used primarily for surface-level parking, has been a goal of city officials for some time, but the process was put on hold after the city shopped it to the Los Angeles Angels as a potential site for a stadium 2019. Months later that fell apart—the Angels wound up staying in Anaheim—then the pandemic hit and delayed an 18-month visioning process that the city intended to start in January 2020.

The city’s acting Economic Development Director Johnny Vallejo said there’s no ongoing effort to solicit a proposal for the site, but the City Council did approve a new contract with race organizers in January that spells out the city’s right to seek a developer, and how race organizers will be notified of any potential negotiations.

How development on the lot could coexist with the 47-year-old race was contemplated by the design firm, City Fabrick, in 2014.

A screenshot of potential road configurations that was envisioned by City Fabrick in the 2014 conceptual design of Downtown Long Beach

The concept was part of a project called “Highways to Boulevards” that imagined Shoreline Drive—now basically an extension of the 710 Freeway—as more connected to the rest of the city and pedestrian-friendly.

This was all part of an international initiative by the nonprofit group Congress for the New Urbanism, which sought to replace existing highways that had segregated populations and negatively affected residents in other ways by replacing them with streets, housing and green-space.

Successful projects that came out of the initiative include Boston’s “Big Dig” and 14 other projects spanning from Madrid to San Francisco.

The concept includes using just half of Shoreline Drive by converting the existing six lanes of traffic to four lanes on the northern half of the street with an expanded Marina Green parkway and 50-foot “flex street” that could serve as space for pedestrians or farmers markets in the current eastbound lanes of Shoreline.

“We’re not saying this is the vision but these are the possibilities,” City Fabrick Executive Director Brian Ulaszewski said.

Ulaszewski noted that the Grand Prix track would remain relatively untouched, except for having to work around whatever may be developed at the Elephant Lot, something race organizers will have to deal with regardless if the city gives City Fabrick’s concept consideration. It lists other urban race tracks like those in Singapore and Monaco as examples of successful races held without the support of a massive surface parking lot.

A screenshot of the Grand Prix track changes in the concept prepared by City Fabrick as part of the Highways to Boulevards initiative in 2014.

The lone portion of the track that changed in the concept is the ninth turn in the track, which would happen at a newly created extension of Linden Avenue and connect to Shoreline Drive through a new east-west street and the hairpin turn 11 just south of the Villa Riviera.

“The Grand Prix used to go through the middle of the Pike when it was a parking lot,” Ulaszewski said. “So we diagramed it. The track has evolved over time and there’s nothing stopping it from continuing it to evolve.”

Jim Michaelian, the president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, declined to answer questions about the past changes to the track and how they affected the race.

The concept was not formally considered by the city, but the multi-pronged report addressed a number of issues created by the terminus of the 710, like how the offramp splits Cesar Chavez Park in two and renders portions of the park unusable, and the Shoemaker Bridge, which the city is now looking to replace.

Both are elements of the city’s plan to connect Cesar Chavez and Drake Parks, which the city has been planning for over 20 years. That project is estimated to cost $10 million and the city is advocating for state funding to help complete it.

The concept addressed other mobility elements like adding bike lanes, and crosswalks and narrowing existing lanes to calm the speed of traffic in the area. The added park space along the Marina Green could offset the continued growth of residential units in the Downtown area that has outpaced the amount of pedestrian-friendly spaces created during the same time.

While the concept was not fully implemented by Long Beach, parts of it have been and other efforts to combine Downtown’s biggest parks are in the works.

Ulaszewski said City Fabrick is willing to be part of the conversation if and when the Elephant Lot is developed to help shape the community’s vision of the future of Downtown Long Beach’s shoreline.

The takeaway from their 2014 concept is that the Grand Prix doesn’t always have to be in its current configuration, Ulaszewski said. It’s adapted to added development in the past and could continue to host races in the city with future development in and around its Downtown footprint.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.