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Big Development Opportunity Draws a Crowd of Contenders

The port district is looking to redevelop 70 acres of land and water along downtown San Diego’s Central Embarcadero, including the site that currently houses Seaport Village. Map courtesy of Unified Port of San Diego

The Unified Port of San Diego has no shortage of companies looking to be part of what eventually replaces the iconic Seaport Village, on a portion of the downtown San Diego waterfront that spans 70 acres.

A check of the port district’s PlanetBids portal on April 13 indicated that more than 240 firms and individuals had registered as prospective bidders, downloading the formal request for proposals after the port district called for those in late February. The majority of interested parties so far were contractors, planners, consultants and other service providers seeking potentially to work with the eventual winning developers.

Also sprinkled among the prospective bidders were several familiar development firms that have previously done large office, hotel, retail and mixed-use projects in San Diego County. Those included Hines, Sunroad Enterprises, Pacifica Cos., Kilroy Realty Corp., OliverMcMillan Inc. and incumbent Terramar Retail Centers.

Customary for this type of project — nobody wants to tip their hand — port officials said not all of those will be submitting plans, and any actual proposals won’t be submitted until close to or on the day of the submission deadline of May 2. Most details won’t be disclosed until port staff have vetted them and presented the most viable alternatives to port commissioners for public review.

“This is one of those development opportunities that only comes around every 50 or 60 years,” said port district spokeswoman Tanya Castaneda, noting that the level of development community interest is on par with what officials had anticipated.

The current lease on the acreage that includes Seaport Village is held by Seaport Village Operating Co. LLC, with Carlsbad-based Terramar as its managing member, and expires on Sept. 30, 2018.

Seaport Village opened in 1980, and the port district last year rejected a proposal by current operators to redevelop the property, as officials seek to maximize revenue generated by prime waterfront spaces. According to the port district, Seaport Village generated approximately $37.4 million in sales during calendar year 2015, supplying the district with $2.7 million in rent payments.

Port district staff anticipates presenting proposals to commissioners in August 2016, at which time the public will also be able to provide input. The port district has not committed to a formal timeline for project selection, construction and opening of new elements.

Castaneda said that timeline will be dictated by several factors, including whether port officials need to seek revised proposals if early candidates are found to need tweaking. Other variables include how things proceed with negotiations with the finalists, environmental reviews and other elements that will need to be worked out for such a large, multifaceted redevelopment.

The overall process will likely take longer, for instance, than the one that resulted last year in Brigantine Inc. being chosen to redevelop the waterfront site that currently houses the iconic Anthony’s Fish Grotto.

“In the case of the Anthony’s site, that was designated for a restaurant,” Castaneda said. “This site (including Seaport Village) is much larger and it’s an open question as to what eventually will go there.”

The winning developers will need to incorporate a mix of several potential elements outlined by the port district. Those uses could include a waterfront arts and entertainment district, hotels, retail and restaurants with “significant architectural elements and features,” and public spaces.

The 70-acre project area includes 40 acres of land and 30 acres of water, meaning that potential amenities can also include new marinas, enhanced commercial fishing operations and other types of aquatic-oriented facilities.

The scope of future improvements is actually beyond Seaport Village itself; it spans the entire Central Embarcadero, which runs between the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel and the USS Midway Museum. It does not include the former police headquarters property already developed by Terramar as the Headquarters retail and dining complex, or the Fish Market restaurant site.

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