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San Diego May Get Elusive River Park In Mission Valley

Shrubs line the banks of the San Diego River near the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot, Feb, 3, 2017.
Kris Arciaga
Shrubs line the banks of the San Diego River near the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot, Feb, 3, 2017.
San Diego May Get Elusive River Park In Mission Valley
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

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Mission Valley can be in line for a major redevelopment now that the Chargers have left San Diego for a home in Los Angeles. That project may be the catalyst for long sought after San Diego River Park . Eric Anderson has a story. Qualcomm Stadium dominates city-owned land in Mission Valley. The concrete structure towers over a huge asphalt parking lot. This area is in line for a major change in that change could be dramatic for the San Diego river. It will literally transform that asphalt into grass and greens. He runs the Sunday go River Park foundation and the group was created 16 years ago to revive the San Diego river. There is water running in the river now but the water hides underground when what desert summer comes. The upside down river with in pretty bad shape when the foundation was born. We found the river that was neglected and polluted. We wanted to clean it up. There's been progress in these County but the river is tough to find as it flows through Mission Valley. That is why talk of a huge park is so energizing. City planners agreed there should be a 30 acre park in Mission Valley and they say it belongs near the river. The foundation is designed for 65 acre plan. It calls for a major facelift. I've created a streambed that was under the trolley and spread out into a big pond area. And then on the other started that pond would be the Amber theater seasonal amphitheater with the green area that we could gather. A River Park here would reconnect the community to the roots. Walking trails and sports fields would give the area a chance to become a community. That is something that's lacking an already crowded Mission Valley. Where do you go to have that social interaction. La Jolla-based development group is pushing the idea of a 55 acre River Park. It is a key component of their plan to reconstruct the site. Neil Stone says the Stadium, housing, commercial development, and River Park are part of the plan. They never figured out how to fund it and we are going to do that. Were going to do that in phase 1. The developers talk with the foundation about a plan and the best to say the proposal presented to the city will incorporate the foundation's vision. Investors would pay about $70 million to tear up the parking lot and build the park. It would be part of their development agreement. I think the River Park is the most important parts of the project. The mirror thinks River Park is essential for any redevelopment of the Qualcomm Stadium site. To open that up for families to come in for kids I think that's going to be what are the most exciting aspects. The River Park won't happen without the city's approval. Officials will have to agree to sell the Qualcomm Stadium land and allow construction of homes and commercial properties and agree to construction of a soccer stadium. Developers hope together enough petition signatures so the city Council can't reject the idea outright. The city isn't happy with the details in the petition were forced the city Council to put the issue before voters in November. Joining me is Erik Anderson. Welcome. Thank you. It sounds as if the people in the River Park foundation have been waiting quite some time for a serious plan to come along to revive the San Diego river through Mission Valley. Are they excited about the investors plan? I think they are. They see this as an opportunity for them to relies their dream of that huge part. They've done a lot of work advancing to the city level. This is actually the second time it's been mentioned. It was also part of the idea that was measure D which was defeated by voters. The reason for optimism when I talked to him he said it's nice to have this discussion This is a sweeping plan for the River Park. They say they will fund the construction who pays to maintain it? This is something that is up in the air and what we are talking about to put you in that place is the Qualcomm Stadium site. It is 106 6 acres in the park is 55 acres along the river underneath the trolley line. They are thing that they will tear up the asphalt and they will build the park and it will cost $50-$70 million depending on what they end up doing and then it's not clear whether or not they will continue to pay to maintain it or whether that responsibility will fall within the city because we do not know the details of the proposal. Do we know some of the hurdles that would have to be overcome in order for the river, that's part to become a reality? It is the carrot as we talk about this site. It is 166 acres. Who was not for a brand-new River Park? That is something that's been pushed out there for public assumption. The idea of a stadium is also well received because it is not calling for any public funding. It will be built with private dollars. That is appealing but there's other things that might present roadblocks specifically they want to involve housing in the area. It is also already very crowded. They want to build commercial areas in there as well and they are asking the city to sell them the land and about $50 million or so roughly. So that they can farm out the development projects. I think that is where the discussion is going to center when it gets to the city Council they will look at the details and be comfortable with the plant they may choose to move forward with it. An interesting thing is they will not do that they will gather signatures and they want to gather enough signatures so they cannot say no to the project. They will be forced to send it to the ballot. As you were describing this investors plan seems to hang on whether major league soccer gives the okay for a team, is not right? That is part of the proposal so major league soccer is going to expand in the next couple of years. Anything that they require is either a stadium that's built for soccer or plan to build a stadium. If the Council is approving the project they have that and they will announce the expansion teams in the fall. If they had to go to the ballot, then maybe San Diego does not have a chance for the expansion slots because they will not have that stadium issue resolved. There's nothing guarantee. The city is being asked to sell this parcel of land without that guarantee that the MLS will come in and build a soccer stadium. The mayor was hesitant with the Stadium plan put forward by the Chargers. What has he been thing about this plan? I think he welcomes the idea but the thing about the mayor is he doesn't have final say on the plan. So he is a booster for the idea of bringing major league soccer here. He likes the idea of creating public amenities in Mission Valley the River Park being a big chunk. He's not opposed to a stadium project that doesn't involve public funding. He is working with the investors so there is positive momentum but it is not his decision to make. What you are seeing is the next thing that most people will see or hear about this is the petition drive in further supermarket. Is at another thing to sign? I think that is fairly safe. They need 72,000 signatures to get that petition to the point where they can force that vote if the city Council does not want to approve the project. So you will see that. I've been speaking with Erik Anderson. Thank you. My pleasure.

San Diego May Get Elusive River Park In Mission Valley
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.

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.

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