San Diego Waterfront Continues Transformation
The San Diego waterfront, already the scene of a growing San Diego Convention Center, is on the verge of adding 750 hotel rooms, a massive retail village and an expanded public park.
The project is the first phase of the Port of San Diego's South Embarcadero Redevelopment Project. Two to three year's worth of construction is likely to begin this spring, according to Ralph Hicks, the port's director of land use and planning.
The project involves three separate undertakings: adding a 750-room tower to the existing Hyatt Regency hotel, expanding a small park into a Central Park with bay access, and building a new 180,000-square-foot retail complex. The port in 1996 completed a master plan for the two-phase South Embarcadero Redevelopment Project. The California Coastal Commission last year approved the first phase, which covers about 20 acres of port district property north of the Convention Center.
After a legal challenge, the project's environmental impact report won the backing of a Superior Court judge in February. Project opponents still have time to appeal the ruling, according to Melissa Mailander, who oversaw preparation of the EIR for the port.
The project is enticing because the hotel and retail developers have a good track record with the port, Hicks said. Manchester Resorts, which already operates the Hyatt Regency, will develop the new tower. Harbor Venture LLP and San Diego Seaport Village will undertake the retail additions to the much smaller Seaport Village.
Once construction is complete and all merchants have moved in, the port should realize an additional $4 million to $6 million a year in lease revenue, Hicks said. The port's annual operating budget is about $110 million. The City of San Diego will get an additional $6 million to $8 million in transient occupancy and sales tax, Hicks said.
The Seaport Village expansion will provide 180,000 square feet for retail shops, entertainment, fast food and sit-down restaurants in a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere. Besides the stores, the project includes a walkway to Fish Harbor Pier, a plaza, courtyards and small arcades, according to the project description in the EIR.
The redevelopment project has received public backing not only because of the economic benefits, but also because of the Central Park development. Seaport developers will contribute $600,000 to the park project, and Manchester Resorts agreed to pitch in $500,000. The four-acre park will provide an important visual and physical link between busy Harbor Drive and the waterfront itself. Community members will have considerable say regarding final design of the park, Hicks said.
However, not everyone is happy with the port's redevelopment efforts. Owners of City Front Terrace, an exclusive condominium complex across from the Hyatt Regency, and the San Diego Police Historical Association both fought the project. City Front Terrace contended the hotel expansion would result in a "walling off" of the waterfront. The police association complained because the project meant the likely demise of a 60-year old police headquarters building to make way for a Seaport Village parking lot.
The condo owners and the police historical association both sued over the project EIR. However, San Diego Superior Court Judge David B. Moon Jr. in February upheld the document. Still, the port had to make a statement of overriding consideration regarding both the walling off issue and the historic building.
"All along Harbor Drive is one big wall," Mailander conceded.
Port planners contended the project would actually improve views and coastal access for the public because of the expanded park. Also, planners scaled back the development from the original plan, which called for expanding the Marriott hotel on Harbor Drive by 600 rooms. The port dropped that expansion because it would have led to "too much hotel in too small an area," Hicks said. Also, the port reduced the Hyatt Regency expansion from the original 810 rooms to 750 rooms, lowered the height of the structure that will connect the new rooms with the existing tower and required a larger setback from Harbor Drive and Kettner Boulevard.
As for the old police headquarters, opinions vary on the historical significance of the structure, which the WPA built during the late 1930s. At one time, it housed police, a city jail, five courtrooms and even a pistol range. The building has mostly been vacant since police moved to newer, larger digs 12 years ago. The building, part of which now serves as a stable for a carriage company, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The police historic association, a two-year-old group of active and retired officers, contends the building is worth saving. The association would like to establish a museum at the old station, which could also accommodate shops and restaurants.
"It was a balancing — do you want a Central Park or do you want to keep the old police station?" Hicks responded. Members of the public who participated in creating the master plan for the South Embarcadero Redevelopment Project definitely wanted the park, he said.
The old police headquarters' bell tower may get incorporated into the park's entrance, which will align with pedestrian-oriented California Street, Mailander added. Furthermore, experts are studying the possibility of moving at least part of the station.
The port's redevelopment project is part of San Diego's booming downtown renaissance. Phase two of the South Embarcadero Redevelopment Project calls for a 1,400-room hotel to replace a commercial shipping terminal. The port is in negotiations with a developer, Hicks said.
All of the hotel rooms are needed to serve a bigger Convention Center and the proposed baseball stadium for the San Diego Padres, which will be only a few blocks away.
Construction has begun on the Convention Center addition, which is scheduled to open in September 2001. Close by is the city's most ambitious redevelopment project — a 26-block district that is to include a baseball stadium that opens in 2002. San Diego voters last November approved the city's redevelopment plan.
Just north of the Convention Center is the bustling Gaslamp Quarter, whose shops, restaurants and clubs have proven popular with locals and tourists.
Ralph Hicks, Port of San Diego land use and planning director, (619) 686-6435.
Melissa Mailander, Port of San Diego environmental review coordinator, (619) 686-6283.