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Monday, Jul 22, 2024

Port District Tees Up Its Preferences for Harbor Island Finalists

San Diego port district officials last year put the brakes on several proposals – with elements including a giant Ferris wheel and a Seattle-Space-Needle-like spire – that some critics thought might turn the downtown waterfront into something resembling a theme-park midway.

Port leaders at that time opted to devote long-term study to a potential entertainment district that might be incorporated into long-term planning for the North Embarcadero. At nearby Harbor Island, however, officials have remained open to elements – beyond hotels and restaurants – that might make the bay-adjacent area more of a unique destination for locals and visitors.

At their recent meeting, port commissioners voted 6-0 (with Commissioner Rafael Castellanos recusing himself) to advance local developers OliverMcMillan Inc. and Sunroad Enterprises to a second and final round of competition to eventually redevelop 57 acres on Harbor Island, including several former rental car sites. They were chosen for final negotiations from among six developers who were winnowed down earlier by port staff.

At the same meeting, commissioners also voted 5-1 (with Castellanos recused and Commissioner Garry Bonelli opposed) to encourage – but not require – the two finalists to work with Dallas-based Topgolf International Inc., which has proposed a high-tech golf driving range with a full-service food and beverage operation.

Topgolf in the past 15 years has opened 24 locations globally, with a setup similar to what might be found at a family-style bowling center, with a full-service restaurant and a lounge filled with pool tables. According to its submission, the upscale, three-story local operation would span 8.5 acres and also include a rooftop terrace with its own full bar, food service, fire pits and live music.

But instead of bowling lanes, the centerpiece of Topgolf’s $32 million project would be a driving range where players hit balls out into a 215-yard outfield surrounded by netting. The balls are embedded with radio-frequency chips that track the accuracy and distance of each shot, with players awarded points based on distance and proximity to the center of the target. The venues also offer league play, children’s programs, and lessons taught by PGA pros.

Topgolf, backed by an investor group that includes Carlsbad’s Callaway Golf Co., sees its concept as a more entertaining, user-friendly alternative to traditional golf, which is fading in popularity – witnessed via signs including recent course closures in San Diego County. Topgolf projects that it can draw 600,000 visitors annually to the local venue, with millennials a key demographic target.

The next step will be to see how – or if – OliverMcMillan and Sunroad choose to incorporate the golf center into their own final proposals, which include various combinations of hotels, offices, retail, restaurants and public plazas. Port officials said Topgolf’s concept “could be integrated into a more comprehensive vision for the site as a whole.”

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Can Opposing Sides Get Married at Convadium?: Colorful metaphors wielded by dueling panelists were among the highlights when the Downtown San Diego Partnership and San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce recently held the first public forum on a potential stadium/convention center hybrid – aka “convadium,” as coined by Voice of San Diego.

“This can help get the parties to the altar, but you can’t make them get married,” said attorney Cory Briggs, among leaders of a citizens’ coalition seeking to raise the city’s hotel taxes by a net 3 percent, to 15.5 percent. If passed in November, that plan could, among other things, help finance a non-contiguous convention center expansion, possibly the one that is part of the San Diego Chargers’ hybrid stadium-event center concept, targeting an East Village site.

To fund the convadium, the Chargers have put forward a competing ballot measure that would raise hotel taxes by 4 percent, to 16.5 percent. Chargers special adviser Fred Maas deemed as “airy fairy” the notion first put forward a decade ago by urban planners – but yet to materialize – that the targeted site in southeastern East Village, currently housing a bus yard, can be turned into an innovation/research cluster along the lines of Torrey Pines. Maas said the convadium has the potential to create economic impact along the lines of the nearby Petco Park, via year-round events.

Local developer David Malmuth made it clear, though not in those exact words, that he and his like-minded urban planners would prefer “none of the above” if asked to choose between the Chargers’ plan and the citizens’ plan, calling the innovation vision a better bet for the city at that location.

After years of behind-the-scenes talks among city officials, hoteliers, developers and the Chargers, the April 14 gathering at the US Grant Hotel was the first substantial public debate on the multiple and long-simmering issues, and organizers said there are more sessions in the works.

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National City Getting Waterfront Upgrades: Car fans might enjoy the sight of thousands of new vehicles being shipped and parked at facilities of Pasha Automotive Services, a key economic driver in the South Bay area. For years, however, others living nearby in National City have been waiting for other things to see and do along that city’s waterfront, most of which is currently dedicated to maritime and industrial uses and not accessible by the general public.

More recreation options may be in the works. San Diego port district commissioners recently directed staff to proceed with environmental review of a proposed land use plan to rebalance the National City waterfront, following input from city leaders, residents and business stakeholders. Targeted future changes include an expansion of Pepper Park, a permanent local segment of the Bayshore Bikeway, expansion of designated commercial development space, the addition of rail capacity, and other business-related land use enhancements.

Send commercial real estate and development news of general local interest to Lou Hirsh via email at lhirsh@sdbj.com.


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