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Tuesday, Feb 7, 2023
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Port OKs New Cruise Terminal, Two Hotels on the Embarcadero

It’s taken about a decade, but the first steps in a plan to renovate San Diego’s downtown waterfront are happening.

Last week, the San Diego Unified Port District approved two projects at the epicenter of the city’s Embarcadero: a dual hotel complex at Lane Field estimated to cost $400 million, and a cruise ship terminal at the Broadway Pier that has increased to more than $23 million.

The first project entails building two hotels with a combined 800 rooms and about 80,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and public parking on 5.7 acres located at Harbor Drive between B Street and Broadway.

The larger hotel, operated by the InterContinental Hotels Group, would stand 22 stories, contain 525 rooms and about 50,000 square feet of restaurants and retail uses. The second hotel, operated by Woodfin Suite Hotels LLC, would stand 13 stories high, have 275 rooms, and about 30,000 square feet of restaurants and retail space.

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The complex also contains a 1,330-car underground parking garage, plus open spaces and terraces accessible through outside elevators that are part of both hotels.

Port Commissioner Laurie Black says while she was impressed with the caliber of the project, her preference would be to create a more open plaza without any commercial development. But the financial reality is that public works projects such as this cannot be done without private commercial enterprise getting involved, she says.

The projects approved last week are part of a larger plan to revitalize the downtown waterfront and make it a more appealing place for people to visit.

That plan, called the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, was adopted in 1997 by five agencies: the port; the city of San Diego; Centre City Development Corp., the city’s downtown redevelopment agency; the county of San Diego; and the U.S. Navy.


Praise Elicited

Though the project developers’ renderings and plans elicited praise from downtown power brokers and officials attending the Jan. 8 meeting at the San Diego Convention Center, not all were pleased with what was displayed.

“The tragedy about you guys is that you’re officiating over the last parcel on the city’s waterfront and you’re walling it off,” said Scott Andrews, a local resident testifying at the meeting.

Representatives from a national union for hotel and apparel workers, Unite Here, Local 30, and other unaffiliated citizens questioned the Port District’s decision not to prepare an environmental impact report, and cited many reasons why the project’s impacts needed to be investigated thoroughly and mitigated before construction could begin.

Countering the opposition was a group of local business leaders, contractors and elected officials, including Mayor Jerry Sanders, who spoke in favor of the project. An organized group, Build the Bayfront Coalition, held a news conference a day before the Port Commission’s meeting to drum up support.


Objections

Among evidence presented at the meeting was the possibility of a large concentration of contaminants in the soil that could seep into the groundwater and empty into San Diego Bay, according to a letter from union law firm Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo of San Francisco.

Before voting unanimously to grant a coastal development permit to the developers, port commissioners spent 45 minutes reading the firm’s 20-plus-page letter and then questioning port staff about the various objections raised.

Port staffers assured the commission that the project did not need a separate environmental impact report, and was covered by an earlier master EIR completed and adopted in 2000. As to the environmental concerns and design issues with the project, all could be addressed within the context of the existing EIR, and rules addressing new development, says Ralph Hicks, the port’s director of land-use planning.

Rather than assailing the project on a myriad of environmental issues, the development team on the Lane Field project should be applauded for incorporating a host of energy saving and “green” elements intended to merit certification from a national group promoting environmentally sensitive construction, Hicks says.

“This is phenomenal what the applicant has achieved,” he said.

The development team on the Lane Field project is made up of Hardage Suite Hotels LLC, Lankford & Associates Inc., Phelps Development Co. of Greeley, Colo., and C.W. Clark Inc. The announced construction cost is about $400 million. The project is expected to create 2,000 hotel jobs and 500 temporary construction jobs, and the estimated hotel taxes generated from the hotels in the first year is $5.4 million, developers say.

Union representatives for hotel workers said they would review their options before appealing the Port District’s granting of the permit. If a lawsuit is filed in the case, it would trigger a review by the California Coastal Commission.


Cruise Ship Terminal Approved

Port commissioners also unanimously approved a development permit for a new cruise ship terminal at the Broadway Pier. The terminal was initially supposed to serve only a few years, and accommodate the increasing number of cruise ships stopping here while work on a more elaborate cruise ship terminal at the B Street Pier got under way this year.

When designs for the Broadway Pier terminal were revealed last summer, they were met with heavy criticism at three public meetings last year.

A metal prefabricated building was scrapped in favor of a new design incorporating much more glass, an embellished roof and public art. The result is a price tag $11 million more than the project’s budget of $12.75 million, or $23.6 million.

At least $12 million of that amount was provided by a loan from Carnival Cruise Lines, which required that the port build a new Broadway cruise ship terminal by October while work on another terminal begins at the B Street Pier. San Diego’s cruise ship business has escalated in recent years and now counts some 200 ship calls annually.

Following up on discussions it has held with its partner agencies, the Port Commission sent a letter to Sanders requesting that either the city or Centre City Development Corp. help pay for the added costs of the more aesthetically pleasing cruise ship terminal.

The Port Commission also conducted its annual changing of the guard for the seven-member board that manages the tidelands along San Diego Bay. Mike Bixler, representing Imperial Beach, is the board’s new chairman. The vice chairman is Steve Cushman of San Diego, and the secretary is Robert “Dukie” Valderrama of National City, giving the board a decided South Bay slant.

After being sworn in, Bixler, a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. and former mayor of Imperial Beach, said he’s looking forward to a productive year. “This year, I intend for this board to ink deals, build projects and cement partnerships.”

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