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Watchdog Groups Taking Last-Ditch Stand Against Broadway Complex

When the Manchester Financial Group was awarded the plum of redeveloping the Navy Broadway Complex into a mixed-use waterfront attraction 10 months ago, one question persisted , would the $1.2 billion project be devoted more to commerce or the common good?

Now, the new year is under way, and the debate is heating up. One local watchdog group, the Center on Policy Initiatives, is calling for a full financial accounting before ground is broken.

Questioning the premise that the project will generate transient occupancy taxes for the city, CPI contends that there are no guarantees of that, especially if the expected new rooms turn out to be condotels , a sort of time-share variation. Instead, based on CPI’s number crunching, it claims that the project could end up costing the city up to $1.2 million more than it generates in general fund revenues each year.

“We need to do due diligence,” said Murtaza Baxamusa, CPI’s director of research and policy. “We cannot leave it to chance. $1.2 million might seem like a drop in the bucket, but it’s significant.”

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Nancy Graham, president and chief operating officer of Centre City Development Corp., which oversees downtown redevelopment for the city, is baffled by that argument.

“The city gets nothing from the site now,” she said. “They should and will be getting revenue from the development there. I can’t see how it will cost the city more than it will receive.”

Graham pointed out that the site is limited to certain uses, including offices and hotels, which, she said, will be needed to accommodate the city’s many conventions.

“The question will be, how many hotels there will be, and what the timetable will be along the waterfront,” said Graham. “The marketplace will take care of that.”

As for a new fiscal analysis of the project, Graham said that CCDC is focused on design and whether or not plans meet the criteria of the 1992 development agreement between the city and the Navy.

“We don’t get into the financial analysis, and neither does the city,” she said.


Anchors Awry

Meanwhile, another local watchdog group, the San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition, on Jan. 4 filed suit in district court against the U.S. Department of Defense, the Navy and the Manchester Pacific Gateway LLCcontending that the Navy failed to adequately address the environmental impact of the project.

The 15-acre site, at Broadway and North Harbor Drive, will include a new Navy headquarters, followed by Class A commercial and retail space, hotels, public attractions, parking and 5-plus acres of open space.

The coalition said it is concerned that the site might be prone to such hazards as earthquakes and terrorist attacks, and complain that the public has been largely shut out of the decision-making process.

“We want all of the stakeholders to have a voice in the process,” said coalition member Don Wood, who has been critical of what he calls a “piecemeal” approach to waterfront development.”It is time for more coordinated planning.”

Diane Coombs, a founding coalition member, wants to eliminate a Navy facility on the site, which she has said, “is a likely terrorist target.” She also wants to boost the cultural quotient in the area, by providing space for summer symphonies and other arts venues.

On Jan. 9, the San Diego City Council rejected an appeal by the coalition, asking for more environmental study of the project. The reasoning: All of the coalition’s concerns already have been taken into consideration, and will continue to be addressed.

In an earlier interview, Graham had noted that the Navy Broadway Complex , as with any other development , must pass muster before a building permit is issued by the city.

“If there is a fault there, they don’t build,” she said.

As for terrorism, Graham commented, “We have a new federal building being built, and no one complained about that.”

But U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, dismissed the council vote as “political,” saying that he would have voted the other way.

“The Navy is trying to get their headquarters paid for in a place that is not good for security, and denies open space and access for San Diego residents,” he said in an interview. “It was a bad decision.”

Filner has written letters to the U.S. and state attorneys general asking for a review of the project.


Papa Doug

All of this controversy has left “Papa Doug” Manchester, chairman of Manchester Financial Group, fuming.

“These are the same people that protested the Convention Center, the Hyatt expansion and the ballpark,” he said. “They are obstructionists who do not want anything built down there.”

Manchester dismissed the coalition’s comments about a lack of public input as “ludicrous,” noting that there had been numerous public hearings on the matter.

“That is the height of absurdity,” he said. “You have a piece of property sitting there on the western edge of our town, ugly Navy buildings. It’s like when we had tattoo parlors and girlie joints, where now we have the Hyatt and Marriott and a resurgence of downtown redevelopment.”

He also dismissed as “absolutely ludicrous” ongoing comments from opponents of his project that his financial support of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ ballot measure , to open up city services to outside competition , was designed to curry favor at City Hall.


Navy Blues

While the Navy is declining any formal comment on the lawsuit or CPI concerns, N. Scott Sutherland, spokesman for the Navy Region Southwest, commented, “We encourage the general public and organizations to come forward with their ideas on how we can make this project succeed. But as many analyses that can be shown in the negative, we expect that we can show positive outcomes as well.”

In November, the Navy signed a landmark 99-year lease with Manchester for the redevelopment, beating a Jan. 1 deadline that could have resulted in the complex being closed by the federal government.

But the project remains a work in progress, with the CCDC continuing to work with the Manchester team on design issues. The California Coastal Commission is expected to start reviewing the project during the week of Jan. 15, according to Manchester executive Perry Dealy.

Ground isn’t expected to be broken on the project until at least the end of 2007, he said.

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