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San Diego May Get Elusive River Park In Mission Valley

San Diego May Get Elusive River Park In Mission Valley

GUEST:

Erik Anderson, environment reporter, KPBS

Transcript

Mission Valley could be in line for a major redevelopment now that the Chargers have dumped San Diego for a home in Los Angeles and that project may be the catalyst for a long sought after San Diego river park.

Qualcomm Stadium dominates a 166-acre swath of city-owned land in Mission Valley. The gray, concrete structure towers over an expansive asphalt parking lot.

But this area could be in line for a major change now that the Chargers have bolted for Los Angeles, and that change could be the catalyst for a long-sought after San Diego river park.

“It will literally transform that hot asphalt into green. Plants and trees and this sort of thing, so it’s actually a wonderful experience,” said Rob Hutsel, president and CEO of the San Diego River Park Foundation.

The group was created nearly 16 years ago to revive the 52-mile-long San Diego River. There is water running in the river now, but the water hides underground during the summer.

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Shrubs line the banks of the San Diego River near the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot, Feb, 3, 2017.

The upside-down river, as Hutsel called it, was in pretty bad shape when the foundation was born.

“We found a river that was largely abandoned, neglected, polluted. We wanted to clean it up and get people to care about it again,” Hutsel said.

There’s been progress in the East County, but the river is tough to find as it flows through Mission Valley. It is hidden, in many spots, by dense brush.

To take that asphalt up. To open that up for families to come. For kids. For now. And for future generations. I think that’s going to be one of the most exciting aspects about this proposal,” — San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer

Hutsel said that’s why talk of a park is energizing.

City planners agree there should be a 30-acre park in Mission Valley. And they say it belongs near the river.

A plan for the river park

The River Park Foundation designed a more sweeping 65-acre park plan that calls for a major facelift near the stadium.

Hutsel stands near the Qualcomm trolley stop that looks to the west.

“A created stream bed that would go through here and then go under the trolley and spread out,” Hutsel said, pointing to the parking lot. “And on the other side of that pond would be that amphitheater. A seasonal amphitheater with a green area where you could gather."

A river park here could reconnect the community to its roots, Hutsel said. Walking trails and sports fields would give the area a chance to become a community.

Photo by Kris Arciaga

The San Diego River Park Foundation logo adorns the agency's office, Feb. 3, 2017.

“Where do you go to go see other people? Starbucks probably. Trader Joe’s. The only community of any sort is the Mission Valley Library. And libraries are supposed to be quiet, right?” Hutsel said.

Parks offer that social interaction and Hutsel said Mission Valley doesn’t have any gathering places.

“They don’t have a community center,” Hutsel said.

Soccer team may result in park

A La Jolla-based development group is pushing the idea of a 55-acre river park. It is a key component of their plan to redevelop the entire Qualcomm Stadium site.

FS Investors is making a play for a Major League Soccer franchise. A stadium, housing and commercial development are part of the proposal. So is a river park.

“The community has sought a river park on this site for 25 years, but never figured out how to fund it,” said Neil Stone, of FS Investors. “And we’re going to do that. We’re going to do that right out of the gate in sort of phase one of our construction.”

The developers talked to the foundation about a river park plan and the investors say the proposal presented to the city this spring will incorporate the foundation’s vision.

FS Investors would pay about $70 million to tear up the parking lot and build the park. The river park would be part of the development agreement.

“I think the river park is one of the most important parts of this project,” said Kevin Faulconer, mayor of San Diego.

This project is essential for any redevelopment of the Qualcomm Stadium site, according to the mayor.

“To take that asphalt up. To open that up for families to come. For kids. For now. And for future generations. I think that’s going to be one of the most exciting aspects about this proposal,” Faulconer said.

But the river park won’t happen without the city’s approval.

San Diego officials will have to agree to sell the Qualcomm Stadium land, allow construction of homes and commercial properties, and agree to allow construction of a soccer stadium. And of course, build the river park.

Developers hope to gather enough petition signatures so the city council can’t reject their idea outright. If the city isn’t happy with the details, the petition would force the city council to put the issue before voters in November.

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