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The Poseidon Adventure: Desalination Project Gets Final OK

I got the most inspiring e-mail Nov. 4 from Peter MacLaggan, senior vice president of Poseidon Resources, saying the following: “It is with an immense sense of shared accomplishment that we inform you that the California Coastal Commission issued Poseidon Resources’ Coastal Development Permit for the Carlsbad Desalination Project.” What a message!

The site preparation will have begun while this column was being typeset for the San Diego Business Journal. The permit process began in 1998 and culminated this month with the final go-ahead.

The process was circuitous to say the least, with more than 15 public hearings, 80 hours of testimony and more than half a dozen legal challenges (all were defeated). There are a few more hurdles, such as securing more than $500 million in bond funding and a lawsuit or two, but the construction process is under way.

The original cost estimate for the privately funded project was only $300 million 10 years ago. Look for the ribbon-cutting sometime in 2012.

With the recession moving on, projects waiting to begin are now under way. For instance, the city of Carlsbad has debated for years the need for a new Police and Firefighter Training Facility. Well, on Nov. 3, the city approved the project with a vote of 4-1 (Councilman Mark Packard opposed it).

Bids will be sought before year-end and construction of the 4-acre facility, which will be adjacent to the Police and Fire Headquarters, will begin. The estimated cost is $21 million.

The news is that the now-defunct Olympic Resort Hotel at the intersection of Palomar Airport Road and El Camino Real in Carlsbad may become a Lowe’s Home Improvement complex. The site is owned by the county of San Diego.

The Airport Division has control of the 16-acre site, which has been considered for many things, including another hotel, a huge health club complex, a restaurant and now a big-box retailer. The process for a big box getting permission to build anywhere in Carlsbad would be difficult.

Sudberry Development seems to think it’s worth the circuitous trip. There is only one other big box in Carlsbad and that is the 140,000-square-foot Costco Wholesale on the opposite end of Palomar Airport Road. Wal-Mart Stores owns an 18-acre site on El Camino Real and College Boulevard, but has put it up for sale.

Speaking of costs, Palomar Pomerado Health’s hospital in Escondido, which is under construction, is looking for more funding. The leaders of the hospital are seeking an additional $228 million to keep the $917 million project on track to be completed in 2012.

The 300-bed hospital will be the hospital district’s second facility in Escondido. The district also has a hospital in Poway.

In other North County news:

• Some companies are not waiting for signs from government agencies to move ahead with their expansion plans. Take Life Technologies Corp. in Carlsbad, for example.

After acquiring its biggest competitor in 2008, the company needed to enlarge its campus. Life Technologies needed to build 200,000 square feet of office and lab space to accommodate its growth.

Luckily, there was a building in Carlsbad that is 180,000 square feet and right next door to the company’s corporate offices. You guessed it, they bought it.

It is in escrow and should be available for tenant improvements before the year is over. The purchase price was not available by last week’s deadline.

These days, buying a nearly 200,000-square-foot building is still a rare occurrence.

• Scripps Health has been named one of the nation’s top employers. The AARP 2009 listing of the 50 Best Employers for Workers Over 50 is an add-on to an earlier award from Working Mother magazine, which named Scripps Health one of America’s 100 Best Companies for its family friendly policies. Scripps Health is the only health care organization in San Diego County to make either list in 2009.

• North County is about to get a new business incubator program. The city of Carlsbad is going to award a contract to the winner of a request for proposal to run a city-supported incubator building to help create new businesses and jobs. The 7,000-square-foot building at the corner of El Camino Real and Faraday Avenue has been reconditioned and outfitted to take a handful of brand-new companies and help them through the formation of their business. A vendor to run the program will be selected before the end of the year.

Ted Owen is president and CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.

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