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Marketplace at Historic Liberty Station Opens for Business

BY MARK LARSON

The $54 million conversion of the old Naval Training Center barracks in Point Loma into shops and stores is humming along for its developer, La Jolla-based C.W. Clark Inc.

Four buildings converted from 160,000 square feet of former military barracks, now called Marketplace at Liberty Station, are part of a 361-acre, $850 million mixed-use development. The space converted for retail and office use is 56 percent leased and has already become home to a 13,000-square-foot Trader Joe’s grocery store, a Starbucks, and a Cold Stone Creamery.

Other tenants set to open in the first two converted buildings in coming months are Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza, Panera Bread, La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill, Da Kine’s Hawaiian Barbecue, a surf shop, a jewelry store, a beauty and nail salon, a PostalAnnex+ location and a Navy Federal Credit Union, said Jeff Rogers, the project’s development manager.

Second-floor office space is also being offered for lease in the buildings, but Rogers said no tenants have yet been signed.

Vons grocery store will take up 50,000 square feet on the ground floor of the second pair of converted buildings, separated by a courtyard. Retrofit work on those two buildings will continue through July, with a Vons store expected to open at the new site this autumn. After that, 30 percent of the barracks space will be left for retrofit construction work, and eventual lease, said Rogers.

In November, C.W. Clark completed its $1.35 million restoration of the North Chapel in Point Loma, located at Truxtun and Roosevelt roads in Liberty Station.


Retrofit Challenges

Retrofitting old buildings for modern uses has no shortage of challenges, and as Rogers can attest, the job is a lot more complicated than constructing a new building on a graded piece of property.

“These are buildings built for a different purpose in the early ’30s,” said Rogers. “They were converted from a cafeteria and kitchen to spaces for retail and restaurants. There are horrendous technical challenges for everybody.”

Among the toughest is bringing the old buildings up to current seismic codes to keep them from crumbling in an earthquake. “We put a lot of time and money on things you won’t be seeing on the surface, without destroying their historic character,” said Rogers. “That’s a real dilemma sometimes.”

One of the companies helping on the retrofits is San Diego-based Legacy Building Services Inc.

“This is the type of work we like to do,” said Tom Remensperger, Legacy’s president.

Jim Knorr, Legacy’s superintendent on the barracks retrofit, says the seismic requirements called for a new foundation to be built under the old buildings and sheer walls were put up inside them. Meanwhile, said Knorr, much attention is paid to maintaining the historic “view corridors” of the buildings, and restoring trim, light fixtures and matching windows of the period.

“This is the most substantial historical renovation in the history of San Diego,” said Knorr. “It’s the first military retrofit/reclamation in the state. It’s being used as a model project throughout California.”


Sailors’ Murals Uncovered

Among the most interesting discoveries in the barracks job were ceiling murals painted long ago by sailors. The artwork had been covered up by two false ceilings that were torn out in the retrofit.

And part of the job is to re-create architecture by making new molds to cast replica trim. For the chapel’s restoration, said Knorr, workers had to rebuild damaged stained glass depicting religious and naval scenes without removing it and risking further damage.

The chapel was re-roofed and repainted white over its stucco, and custom-built windows, balconies and rails were installed. The church, which has rows of hand-carved wooden pews inside as well as a shiny, restored pipe organ, served thousands of military personnel stationed at the Naval Training Center. While working on its restoration, workers took care not to damage the sidewalks outside the building. They, too, are considered historic, and so were kept from harm’s way.

“We kind of had to walk on glass in a lot of those areas,” said Knorr.

Rededicated in November, the chapel remains a place of worship and a site for secular holidays and special military events.

The retrofitted buildings present new challenges for some of the retail tenants of the preserved buildings. Vons grocery, for instance, will occupy two former barracks separated by a historically preserved “view corridor.”

“They have to redesign the entire infrastructure of the store,” said Knorr, to be able to accommodate shoppers in two separate buildings.

And Trader Joe’s, said C.W. Clark’s Rogers, has willingly made accommodations to operate its business in a historic building.

“Rather than fight the circumstances of being in an old building, Trader Joe’s embraced it,” said Rogers. “They kept an open truss structure, and three zones are melded together to make the store. They did a particularly incredible job of working with the building.”

The store kept interior finishes and displays of historic murals.

Rogers gives similar kudos to Starbucks, Sammy’s and other tenants that serve high volumes of customers.


Parks To Arts

The shopping center is only one part of Liberty Station, which also includes 25 acres of parks, open space and a boat channel; a 28-acre civic, arts and cultural district with museum displays explaining the site’s history; a nine-hole golf course; and six schools. Now, nearly 350 families live at the site and more than a dozen companies are located there.

The Corky McMillin Cos., along with the city of San Diego’s redevelopment agency, collaborated on the project.

McMillin spokesman Greg Block said the rebirth of the old Navy training site has progressed better than expected.

“It took a long time to come to fruition for a variety of reasons,” he said. “But since we opened it, every business there has been doing great with better customer traffic than had been anticipated. That shows the community is really behind the project.”

Beyond that, Block also noted how retail tenants have incorporated the site’s naval history into their spaces, some displaying artifacts. And from a practical standpoint, he adds, the new shopping options are a welcome amenity for locals.

“There was a real void for shopping in the area,” he said. “This is filling a need for the community.”


Mark Larson is a freelance writer for the San Diego Business Journal.

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