Civic leaders broke ground on the $28.6 million first phase of improvements to downtown San Diego’s North Embarcadero, a project 15 years in the making that officials say will have long-term economic impact well beyond the waterfront district itself.
Stanton-based contractor USS Cal Builders Inc. has begun work stemming from its $18.6 million contract awarded by the Port of San Diego in November, to construct the first phase of the long awaited visionary plan that will bring new pedestrian-friendly, public open spaces to the bay-front.
Port documents indicate the project’s first-phase expenses also include $7.5 million in contingencies and $2.5 million in soft costs, including design support, construction management, inspection and testing.
Port officials estimate the first-phase work, set for completion in summer 2013, will generate close to 400 jobs. That includes approximately 280 construction jobs while the work is in progress, and an additional 115 permanent jobs following completion.
USS Cal Builders project manager Mohammad Qahoush said the company has hired on several local and regional subcontractors for the project. The Orange County company, which has a San Diego office, has done numerous civic, educational and infrastructure projects throughout Southern California.
“We’re going to make sure that safety is maintained and public access for the businesses and the residents near there is maintained during the work,” said Qahoush. “That is usually the challenging thing for projects like this.”
The completed first phase will have a 105-foot wide esplanade with formal gardens, plazas, shade pavilions, and a waterfront promenade, stretching from Navy Pier to the B Street Pier.
Storm-water drainage improvements will provide a water treatment system along the bay-front esplanade on North Harbor Drive, preventing pollution from entering the bay.
Putting Art in Architecture
Featured public art includes internationally acclaimed artist Pae White’s designs, which will be integrated into the project’s architecture. White’s work will be visible in the shapes of a café building and an information center that are included in the project.
Port and city officials are also anticipating long-term ripple economic benefits, in conjunction with other downtown commercial and residential developments in the works.
For instance, port district spokesman John Gilmore said an enhanced waterfront could aid progress on the long-stalled Lane Field development, which has two hotels proposed for a parcel adjacent to Embarcadero area, and the Navy Broadway project, with office, hotel and related commercial elements.
“This is intended to serve as a catalyst, as the seeds for private development,” Gilmore said of the port’s North Embarcadero investment.
More immediate benefits, officials say, will come in the form of a showcase area that better serves local residents, attracts tourists and links the waterfront to other downtown neighborhoods.
“It’s nobody’s fault, because it just hasn’t been brought together before this, but the waterfront right now is about a B experience,” said Joe Terzi, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The Embarcadero when it’s built out will help make it an A experience, and anything that helps the experience for locals is going to help tourism.”
Scott Peters, chairman of the Board of Port Commissioners, said the Embarcadero project is a third vital step in improving downtown life for local residents, following past development of the ballpark district and the new main library.
The Embarcadero could work well with future parks being planned by the city, to make the downtown more livable and ultimately attract more residents and businesses.
Peters said officials may need to find alternative funding to support future phases of the waterfront project, as community reinvestment dollars become harder to obtain with the disbanding of the state’s redevelopment agencies.
“We had plenty of challenges with the first phase, and it got done,” Peters said. “It was a major accomplishment to get Phase 1 off the ground — it was a 15-year project.”