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The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Scout (MCM 8) is moored at the Port of Los Angeles on Aug. 30, 2019, to support Los Angeles Fleet Week (LAFW). LA Fleet Week returns live for the first time in more than two years, after the pandemic drove it into an online presence only, from Friday to Monday, May 27-30.

The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Scout (MCM 8) is moored at the Port of Los Angeles on Aug. 30, 2019, to support Los Angeles Fleet Week (LAFW). LA Fleet Week returns live for the first time in more than two years, after the pandemic drove it into an online presence only, from Friday to Monday, May 27-30. (Sarah Villegas/U.S. Navy)

(Tribune News Service) — The street banners and patriotic bunting are up.

So are the American flags hanging from light poles throughout downtown San Pedro.

And two mega U.S. Navy ships — the USS Essex and the USS Portland — will anchor in the Outer Harbor early this week.

In just a few days, LA Fleet Week returns live for the first time in more than two years, after the pandemic drove it into an online presence only.

Organizers are expecting a super-sized celebration that will bring back much of the familiar, but with new twists, including non-stop live entertainment. The free event will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Friday to Monday, May 27-30.

Festivities this year will also wrap along the entire waterfront, with the visiting Navy ships open for tours at the Outer Harbor and the main expo at the World Cruise Center and USS Iowa — all to be connected by ongoing shuttle services.

“We have a unique opportunity to have the waterfront completely connected,” said Jonathan Williams, president and CEO of the Pacific Battleship Center and president of the L.A. Fleet Week Foundation. “After all these years, people have wanted to see the downtown and the water connected and this year we’re testing that.”

The two visiting ships — the USS Essex, a helicopter carrier; and the USS Portland, an amphibious transport dock ship — are making their Fleet Week debuts this year.

Tours of both ships will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, with lines forming at the main expo venue and shuttles taking tourists south to the Outer Harbor, where the ships will be docked through the weekend.

Having the lines on the main venue footprint, Williams said, will enable people to keep an eye on the best times to line up while still enjoying the rest of the festivities when the queues are too long.

“I’m excited Fleet Week is back and in person,” said Elise Swanson, president and CEO of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, which is coordinating volunteers for the event. “We’re getting a lot of our experienced volunteers signed up and there’s a sense of excitement that it’s back.”

The U.S. Navy holds Fleet Week events at ports throughout the United States, offering residents a chance to tour active-duty ships, talk with sailors and learn more about the Navy. This year’s LA Fleet Week, on Memorial Day, weekend will coincide with the New York Fleet Week event on the opposite coast.

Instead of a high-profile outdoor concert to kick off this year’s Los Angeles event, the 2022 Fleet Week will provide ongoing live entertainment across all four days, giving it more of a festival vibe, Williams said.

The port town’s adjacent downtown dining and shopping district, meanwhile, is also gearing up for what is often a flood of sailors and civilians visiting the area’s restaurants, bars and art galleries.

This year will also offer more visibility throughout other parts of Los Angeles.

The biggest change, of course, is the timing: held on Labor Day weekend in the past, the event, as of this year, has now permanently switched to Memorial Day weekend.

The change in season provides some advantages, organizers said. For one, there should be more temperate weather. Temperatures are expected to be in the low 70s for the Memorial Day weekend.

“Labor Day had temperatures sometimes nearing 100 degrees,” Swanson said.

The Memorial Day timing also provides a natural tie-in to a holiday that the USS Iowa — San Pedro’s battleship museum at the center of Fleet Week’s expo footprint — has already built into a big draw, with a patriotic ceremony, live radio broadcasts and booths providing services for veterans.

This year’s event will also include a stronger military emphasis, with wider participation by the Army and Air Force, along with the usual Navy, Coast Guard and Marines.

Union Station, the original Farmer’s Market and the central Library in downtown LA will host events as well, allowing Fleet Week to expand its visibility.

But annual visitors will still get to enjoy many of the regular events that will return again this year, including:

— Tallship Village with daily sails from Friday through Monday, including cannon battle sails, sunset sails and an educational sail.

— Exhibits and displays, including helicopters and armored vehicles.

— STEAM displays, with androids, robotics and emerging technology.

— Competitions, including dodgeball among military teams.

— Galley Wars, with chefs from the military branches competing.

— Aerial demonstrations.

— Live entertainment.

Leading up to opening day, there also will be a large-scale disaster preparedness exercise at Cabrillo Beach, set for Tuesday, May 24. The event is not open to the public but spectators can watch from outlying points. No one from the public is allowed in the perimeter of the exercise, however.

Late on the festival’s closing day, a Memorial Day service will be held at the Iowa.

The LA event, which began in 2016, has drawn as many as 250,000 people over the course of the long weekend. A January 2020 report released by the Port of Los Angeles said the events were fast becoming the waterfront’s major tourist draw, pulling larger and larger audiences and widespread publicity.

Parking will be available at various lots in and around the downtown San Pedro area, including the Topaz Building at Sixth and Centre streets; on the waterfront (a new lot has opened next to the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, at Sixth and Harbor Boulevard); and at outlying parking areas available at and around the Outer Harbor, with shuttle service available to the main venue.

“We’re stressing that people also consider taking Uber or Lyft (and carpooling) to the area,” Swanson said, “just because it’s a big festival and there will be a lot of people coming.”

Over the past weekend, Swanson added, the town was already beginning to look festive.

“Downtown’s looking cute,” she said. “We’re getting ready for a party.”

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