President, Bitterlin Development Corp.
University of Southern California, graduated 1975, with bachelor of arts in political science; graduated 1984 from Santa Barbara College of Law
Birthplace and residence:
Wife, Robin; daughters Alexandra, 19, and Michaela, 16; son Andrew, 14
Various sports, but mostly golf; coaching Pop Warner football
Chris Bitterlin Tuned in to County’s Needs When He Built Coors Amphitheatre
The contact for the highest-profile project in Chris Bitterlin’s career was made on a tennis court in Santa Barbara.
While he was in law school, Bitterlin worked as a tennis pro at Santa Barbara’s Montecito Country Club. That’s when his original contact at Universal Concerts Inc. asked him, “Why don’t you build an amphitheater in San Diego?”
Coors Amphitheatre was Bitterlin Development Corp.’s first major project and proved to be an ambitious and lengthy undertaking.
After Bitterlin returned home to his birthplace , he grew up in Point Loma and lives there today , Bitterlin Development spent 14 years working on the $20 million, 20,000-seat project before it opened in 1998 for its first season of concerts.
“Siting (the amphitheater) was more difficult than we could have imagined,” Bitterlin said, due in large part to traffic and noise issues.
Bitterlin was up for the challenge of finding a site that would not disturb nearby residents.
“That’s the most exciting thing about development,” he says. “Whether it’s good or bad, you’re changing a neighborhood.”
In 1994, Bitterlin Development a 70-acre site east of Interstate 805 off Main Street in Chula Vista. The developer approached the property owners, whose plans for a 120-acre business park fell through.
City officials liked the idea of an outdoor amphitheater, according to Chris Salomone, Chula Vista’s director of community development.
As the project gained momentum, an amphitheater was proposed on the Viejas Indian Reservation, in Mission Bay and in a Poway business park. A bayfront site in Chula Vista was even proposed, but traffic and noise was a bigger concern there than at the site where Coors Amphitheatre ultimately was built, Salomone said.
Sticking With It
The city succeeded in getting an amphitheater, and Salomone attributes that in large part to Bitterlin.
“He has a real positive, problem-solving mindset,” he says.
The project was delayed by litigation soon after receiving its approval in 1995.
“It was not totally different from what the (Downtown San Diego) ballpark is going through now,” Bitterlin recalls.
Ground was finally broken in November 1997, and construction was completed in July 1998, despite three months of record-breaking El Ni & #324;o rainfalls.
Bitterlin said Coors Amphitheatre has been a great success for the Los Angeles-based operator, House of Blues Concerts Inc., which originally was named Universal Concerts Inc.
“At the end of its fourth season, over a million people have been there.”
Of course, that includes Bitterlin, who has box seats at the amphitheater and occasionally attends events, like the Oct. 5 James Taylor concert.
Bitterlin Development had a hand in the amphitheater’s neighbor, the 32-acre Knott’s Soak City USA water park. The company assisted with real estate transactions and municipal approvals for the local private investor, contractor George Hice, who initiated the project and sold it to Knott’s.
The water park, originally named White Water Canyon, was completed before the amphitheater in May 1997.
With the combined attendance of the amphitheater and the water park, “over the past two years, there’s been more than 2 million people who have gone to a location that four years ago was weeds,” Bitterlin says.
Since the successful completion of Coors Amphitheatre, Bitterlin has worked with House of Blues Concerts on a 20,000-seat amphitheater in Austin, Texas, a 7,000-seat indoor theater in San Jose, a 17,000-seat amphitheater in Salt Lake City, and a $2.5 million remodel of Universal Theatre in Los Angeles.
Some developers may disagree, but Bitterlin says the challenges are what makes development fun.
“Even with the challenges, I look back on them as our greatest accomplishments.”
Negotiating For The Future
Bitterlin was project manager and lead negotiator for the San Diego Unified Port District in 1998 and 1999 during its acquisition of the South Bay Power Plant in Chula Vista from San Diego Gas & Electric Co.
“In about eight years, the plant will be torn down and the (150-acre waterfront) site will be prepared for redevelopment,” Bitterlin said. “Some years from now, it may be the greatest real estate deal I was ever involved in.”
When the port decided to buy the power plant, it had 60 days to put the deal together, according to port attorney David Chapman.
In order to obtain the property, the port needed to team up with an operator to fund the acquisition. The port issued a project revenue bond to buy the plant and Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy Corp. agreed to lease and operate the plant for 10 years, amounting to revenue matching the terms of the bond.
“Everybody was really a key player, and Chris was in the middle of that. I wish we could find a project as equally challenging so I could work with him again,” Chapman says.
Bitterlin says he is just one of several players in each deal he’s worked on.
“In major projects, it takes a lot of talented people working on the deal,” he says.
Currently, Bitterlin Development is working on three new projects in Chula Vista, which total about $45 million.
On the former Fuller Ford site on Broadway in west Chula Vista, Bitterlin Development has teamed with developer Carter Reese & Associates of San Diego for an “urban village.”
Redeveloping Chula Vista
On the approximately 3-acre site, the partnership plans a building along Broadway with 9,000 square feet of retail space underneath 12 residential lofts. Another 40 for-sale, townhome units are planned behind the mixed-use building. Construction could begin in nine months.
Bitterlin Development is in the very early stages of two other similar projects in Chula Vista. One will be retail-oriented and the other will be residential.
Bitterlin says Chula Vista officials are pro-growth and want to push redevelopment of older areas of the city.
“Everybody wants things to happen, as long as they’re well-planned and well thought out,” he says. “That’s why I’m such a big believer in Chula Vista.”
And, he’s a big believer in Point Loma. He’s happy to say another of his development projects is his home there, built 15 years ago.
Bitterlin graduated from Point Loma High School in 1971, followed by four years at the University of Southern California where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science. In 1984, he graduated from the Santa Barbara College of Law.
“Chris is extremely hard-working , tenacious. He’s a competitor,” says Mark Bitterlin, his brother and business partner.
Mark Bitterlin is president of Bitterlin Cos. Inc. and San Diego Property Management, which he founded in 1980. Chris Bitterlin bought out his brother’s original partner in 1984.
San Diego Property Management oversees 100 properties in Southern California and Arizona. Bitterlin Cos. Inc. is a real estate brokerage and consulting firm, managing and selling trust assets on behalf of third-party clients.