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NAVWAR Redevelopment Could Revitalize Midway District

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The Navy is in the process of putting together what could be one of San Diego's most consequential redevelopment projects in decades, as it seeks a new facility for its cybersecurity operations in the Midway District.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The Naval information warfare systems command or nav war is the Navy's high tech communications hub, but it's located in a world war II era warehouse in the midway district. KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen says, plans to build a new nav war headquarters could have a big impact on the neighborhood

Speaker 2: 00:19 on this side. Over here, behind that is actually a storage area. It was being developed and built up, uh, up until about a year ago. Greg guisane is walking me through a giant empty room at nav war, the Navy's cyber security division headquartered right here in San Diego. It's 32 feet to the bottom of the beams. It's about 55 feet to the top of the peak guys and describes nav war as the cyber geeks of the U S Navy. They develop secure communications technology for Navy vessels and they do it in a sprawling 70 acre campus built during world war II for manufacturing aircraft. To say the facilities are a bad fit for nav Wars 21st century mission is an understatement. The challenge we have is providing the security and locking that down and the efficiency and modern spaces that these world war II factories just don't have beyond the security challenges.

Speaker 2: 01:08 Buildings can get sweltering in the summer because they lack air conditioning and if guys and has a meeting on the other side of the campus, it can take a half hour just to walk there and back. So it's a lot of inefficiency in the way that we're spread out over the whole property. If I could just step into an elevator and we had the meeting like that, I'd save hours every day, the Navy planes to design and build a more compact headquarters and pay for it and by leasing or selling off its excess land for private development for help with that vision, the Navy has turned to the county's regional planning agency. SANDAG. It's going so well right now. It's a little scary actually. Asana Curata is SANDAG is executive director. The two agencies are now meeting weekly trying to hammer out a joint development deal. A big part of the Kratos vision is a new mass transit center with a rail line connecting to the airport less than two miles away.

Speaker 3: 01:57 It told us what they need and we told them if we give you that when you give us the land, that's pretty much the term and we will take about 14 acres of the land and we will build a San Diego grand central and we'll open the rest of it to private development.

Speaker 2: 02:13 It grata says the addition of a new transit center could kickstart the revitalization of the midway district, which is plagued by blight. New housing and commercial space would fund some of the transit hubs costs, but it would also require some local taxpayer dollars. It Kratos says finally, connecting rail to the airport would be worth it.

Speaker 3: 02:33 Convince people in San Diego that is to their interest and to their kids and grandkids. Interest is to do this. The whole system of this is special. This is transformational. This is going to influence what happened from the sport that you all live with to downtown.

Speaker 2: 02:50 All this may seem like a done deal, but the Navy insists it's not. At a recent open house meeting, the Navy presented a range of options, low or high density development with or without a transit center. Clifford Weiler of mission Hills expects whatever happens, traffic will get worse in the midway district, but he's withholding judgment until the Navy gives more details. His bottom line, the status quo for nav Wars facilities is not an option that needs to be replaced. It looks nice on the outside. The skeleton looks beautiful but the inside is, is deteriorating.

Speaker 4: 03:26 It needs to be replaced. So this is a modular furniture. Uh, this is what a cube looks like in a cube farm before it's assembled back at the nav war site. Greg guys and says the Navy's objective of getting a new facility comes first. But if they can help out with other regional goals, like building more housing and improving public transit, even better, all the pieces fell into place. A lot of good thinking by a lot of good people, put a lot of combined issues together and we might have a viable and mix sense solution, which doesn't often happen in local and federal government that things just kind of make sense after it's [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 04:00 environmental review. The Navy says it plans to make a final decision on what to do with its land before the end of the year and nav war isn't the only big redevelopment project in the works in the midway district. Tune in tomorrow for a deep dive into how this languishing neighborhood could be on the verge of a building. Boom. Joining me is KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, welcome. Thank you. Maureen, you got a tour of the current nav war headquarters. What's it like? It's definitely makes you feel pretty small. Um, it's, it's more, it looks and feels more like a factory or a warehouse than a cybersecurity operation. And to reiterate, these hangars were built in the 1940s to manufacture [inaudible] bombers for world war II. And not a lot has actually changed to the skeleton of the building. There were some broken windows at the top of the structure, so, you know, pretty rundown.

Speaker 2: 04:52 Uh, some of the buildings had classified work going on so we weren't able to go in there. Um, but the two, uh, buildings that we did get a tour of, um, there was a lot of empty space, a lot of just storage area, uh, and some offices that were built inside the, the, the shell structure. So they found their ways to adapt, but it's certainly not the most comfortable environment. Um, we saw a food truck parked on our way out, so they, they've kinda, you know, figured out ways to bring in food and get their employees fed, uh, in a nice kind of way. 21st century way. Yeah. If part of nav war is converted into a new San Diego transit center, how much work would it take to connect it to the airport or vice versa? Quite a bit of work actually. So they would have to, um, if they, they create the transit center on the, this, uh, property, they would have to move the trolley and the coaster tracks over from where they currently are right now.

Speaker 2: 05:43 They're right next to the I five freeway on the West side. So that could involve trenching, um, possibly creating multiple platforms going underground. The rail airport at the rail line to the airport, uh, could either be above or underground if it's underground, the, you know, obviously that's tunneling and you would be going under the a terminals. So that would require approval from the FAA. Um, if it, if it's above ground, it's a little bit more of a circuitous route. Um, but as far as Costco's SANDAG estimates that the cost of the transit center would be 3.5 to four point $5 billion. So a big price tag certainly, and they would pay for it with a mix of a bunch of different, uh, sources of revenue. If the transit center is ultimately included in the redevelopment project. My guess is it would probably be one of the last things to actually get built because of that uncertainty around where all of the money will come from.

Speaker 2: 06:34 Why does Hassan at Grotta call this proposed transit center? San Diego's grand central. I think part of it is he just wants to create some iconic project for San Diego, uh, to look towards, uh, for, for public transit and for, you know, transportation infrastructure. He points to union station in Los Angeles, grand central in New York city, obviously, um, all places where you have multiple transit lines that are converging and, and, and you're able to make quick transfers. Um, he wants to create something big and pretty for San Diego and longterm. He's also envisioning expanding the coaster service from North County that would allow residents up there to, to make a quick and easy transfer to the airport terminals. So this is really a longterm investment that they see in, uh, transit for San Diego. Now the plan actually brings several redevelopment plans together. The Navy's new cybersecurity unit, the counties regional transportation plan, and the airports new terminal one.

Speaker 2: 07:29 Tell us about that. Yeah, it's really remarkable. Every time I think about it, how, um, the stars are aligning on so many different things happening all at once. So as you mentioned, the airport authority has plans to expand terminal one and under pressure from virtually every other government agency in the County. They decided to ultimately pledge some money toward improving transportation to those terminals. As part of that whole project, the NAFTA redevelopment could potentially bring in new housing, new office space, new retail space. And at the same time SANDAG is working on its regional transportation plan. They were given a mandate from the state to reduce vehicle travel in that, in that plan by 19% and that's a very tall order. So a year ago the board of directors approved extending the timeline for their regional transportation plan so that they could kind of take a fresh look and reevaluate some of the fundamentals of our transportation network.

Speaker 2: 08:23 So you know, all of these [inaudible] and what SANDAG and the Navy told me was that this partnership almost didn't happen. The Navy was not expecting a response from SANDAG when it put out this request for information on what to do with this property. But when they, the more they looked into it, the more it kind of made sense to them. Even if this is approved, aren't we looking at ears of red tape as the federal government and SANDAG hammer out a deal? Well, the Navy wants their new facility for nav war quickly and their goal is to have a what's called a record of decision from the secretary of the Navy in about a year. So late 20, 20, early 2021 after that construction could theoretically start fairly quickly. Um, you heard from Hassan and rod in my, in my story that the executive director of SANDAG that it's going so well.

Speaker 2: 09:09 It's a little scary. So, um, I think that at this point, you know, the Navy is going through its national environmental protection act, uh, process. This is a very formal, you know, legal process they have to do to analyze the impacts that this redevelopment would have on the environment. Uh, but you know, it seems like the option that is making the most sense for them right now is, um, is high density development with the transit center. And, uh, you know, we'll see if, if after the public comment period and all that, uh, plays out, you know, if that's ultimately what they settle on. Can you tell us just a little bit about part two of your feature tomorrow? Yes. So another big project in the midway district is the Pachanga arena, or more formally, formerly known as the sports arena property. Uh, the city owns that land and they put out a request for developers on, on what to do with that land. Um, the community plan update was also, uh, passed by the city, um, a few years ago. So there's a lot of potential for new development in the midway district. Um, but there's a big complicating factor, which is the 30 foot height limit. So you'll hear more about that in part two. Terrific. I've been speaking with KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew. Thank you. Thanks, Maureen.

Speaker 5: 10:23 [inaudible].

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.