Battle brews over waterfront redevelopment
Thursday, May 18, 2006
To banker Peter Q. Davis, the corner of Broadway and Harbor Drive is the Plymouth Rock of San Diego.
Peter Q. Davis, Banker: "This is where our early history started. Father Serra landed here. People don't know it but he was accompanied by the Spanish Navy here. When the San Carlos pulled into the bay, there were a lot of crew members who died. So when he came up from Baja California, this is where he held his first religious ceremony, his first blessing."
With personal memories of San Diego's old baseball stadium just across the street, it's also where Davis waxes nostalgic about his youth.
Davis: "This was like the Qualcomm of my day. If you played on a baseball team and you got to the playoffs, you played here, whereas the football teams now go to Qualcomm. So I played at Lane Field. I came out here. My father worked here as a Navy captain. I'd stop by and pick him up after school. We'd go over and watch a game and we'd have dinner."
Today this piece of land which is occupied by old decrepit Navy buildings is called the Gateway or front porch to San Diego. With its sweeping view of the bay, the 15-acre site is the last remaining and most valuable piece of waterfront property left in San Diego. It's also the center of a tussle between the Navy and community activists over how to develop it. Peter Q. Davis says the land is a gift that San Diegans should give to themselves. But the Navy owns the land, and it has other plans for the site. It wants to bulldoze the 1920s era buildings and replace them with museums, shops, six acres of open space, a hotel and an office tower which would include space for new Navy headquarters. As part of the near billion dollar project, the Navy would lease the land to a developer. The plan has opened up the Navy to charges it's choosing greed over what's the best use of the property. Rear Admiral Len Hering says that's not so.
Hering: "The Navy is not seeing dollar signs. As a matter of fact, the entitlements are severely less than what they would be if the Navy were seeking revenue. The only thing the Navy wants is office space."
But civic activist and project opponent Dianne Coombs says that's office space the Navy can find elsewhere in the city. The public, however, can't find more waterfront land in San Diego.
Coombs: "I think it's the worst possible use for property of one of the last pieces, most spectacular pieces on the bay front, and it's desperately needed to provide open space and views and access to the bay."
Coombs wants to see the site transformed into a hub for civic and cultural events. She envisions a green park, a place for outdoor symphony performances, and a museum. If the Navy's planned project goes forward, she says San Diegans are the big losers.
Coombs: "They lose what's behind me because this view of the bay could be opened up when the Navy buildings come down. They will lose the open space they need -- the civic gathering spaces they need."
But Rear Admiral Hering says the public is benefiting from the project because the site today is completely closed off to civilians. And he says the plan is part of the overall larger North Embarcadero redevelopment that would include trails for hikers and bikers, plazas and space for public functions.
Rear Admiral Hering: "It will be open access. People will be able to walk through it. They'll be able to go from one end to another. Cars will be able to drive through it. We're not closing it off. We're opening it up."
Perry Dealy is president of the Manchester Group. The Navy has chosen the company to develop the project. Dealy says the plan includes view corridors so people will be able to see the water.
Perry Dealy, Manchester Group President: "We have slender towers coming up with a lot of open space between the towers. It really is what the urban land institute would call a model redevelopment project for its location."
Still, critics say the project may have been a model plan in1992, but not anymore. In 1992, San Diego was in a recession and needed development. It's also when the city cut a deal with the Navy to redevelop the site. But today downtown is booming with hotels, office towers and shops. Also, some wonder whether the Navy is up to haggling with hotel magnate and reputed tough negotiator Doug Manchester to build the project. Rear Admiral Hering bristles at that suggestion.
Hering: "This is the federal government. We have more than enough skills. We are very, very careful. We have the very best team of legal folks who scrubbed every last piece of the negotiation effort."
Dealy says Doug Manchester or Papa Doug as he calls him brings cache to the project.
Dealy: "When you look at what Mr. Manchester, what Papa Doug has created on the waterfront, it speaks for itself. He has created the vibrancy that has brought the city back Ernie Hahn, Doug Manchester and now John Moores you look over the last 20 years, if it wasn't for those three people, we wouldn't have all the residential downtown that we have. We wouldn't have the renaissance that's taken place downtown."
Civic activist Dianne Coombs remains unimpressed. She wants Mayor Jerry Sanders to help stop the proposed development at the Navy Broadway Complex.
Coombs: "We would like to see him step out and provide some leadership. I realize that he's got lots of problems on his plate right now. But this is a one-time opportunity. If you don't do it now, you will have lost the opportunity."
To hear the mayor's spokesman Fred Sainz tell it though, there is no opportunity.
Fred Sainz, Spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders: "The city has no say, absolutely no say whatsoever as to turning that area into parkland or an opera house or anything else. This happened as a result of congressional action. Congress would have to vote over again."
The Navy Broadway Complex didn't make it on the list of military base closures last year. But officials say if a development deal isn't reached by January of 2007, the site will be closed. Davis says the threat of the complex being lost to San Diegans for good is just that a threat.
Davis: "This is an antiquated building that has ceased to serve its purpose for the Navy. Would the Coast Guard want it? Of course not. Would the Army want it? Of course not. Would the Air Force want it? Of course not."
But Davis says San Diegans do want the land underneath the complex and he has an idea he admits is a pipedream.
Davis: "We gave it to the Navy for a purpose. What would be really nice is if the Navy would give it back. The Navy talks about what a wonderful gift it is for the city because we're going to produce a lot of tax revenue for you. Yes, but just penciling it out looks like you're gaining a 200 million dollar building. Wouldn't it be nice if you gave us that 200 million dollars? Give us back the property that we gave you fee simple for free."
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