Aside from providing conventioneers with another choice on where to hang their hats, the long-awaited $348 million Hilton San Diego Convention Center Hotel is being billed as “a true urban resort” by John Portman & Associates of Atlanta, the architectural arm of its co-developer, Portman Holdings.
If that term sounds like an oxymoron, it really isn’t, said Sal Ochoa, an architect and assistant real estate manager for the San Diego Unified Port District.
The new 30-story, 1,190-room Hilton will look like a resort next to a park, with plazas and palm trees, he said.
“If you drive Downtown, you see hotels designed in the urban fabric. They butt right up against the curb. There’s no green space. People are dropped off at the curb and there’s the hotel, right in front of them,” he said.
“The Hilton, on the other hand, won’t have the feel of a hotel located in the grid of Downtown. There will also be a swimming pool overlooking the waterfront that will add to the resort feel.”
“From the very beginning of the design process, our goal was to create a hotel that would become a true urban resort, taking full advantage of the outstanding views,” said Walt Miller, a Portman vice president. The firm announced details of its architectural plans Feb. 21.
The Hilton broke ground in December. When it’s completed in the fall of 2008, it will increase the number of hotel rooms in Downtown to about 10,000.
The Port District, which is the hotel’s landlord, is the administrator of the tidelands, including the project’s 10.2-acre site on San Diego Bay. It was financed with a $245 million construction loan from San Diego National Bank and $100 million in equity capital from the hotel’s owners, Beverly Hills-based Hilton Hotels Corp., which put up $40 million, and New York-based ING Clarion, which contributed $60 million. Phelps Program Management of Aurora, Colo., is also a co-developer of the Hilton project. Hensel Phelps Construction, which has its headquarters in Greeley, Colo., is the general contractor.
Putting The Pieces Together
Having another major hotel in Downtown is considered the missing piece of the puzzle to complete the lodging required to lure large-scale events that could operate simultaneously and optimize business at the Convention Center since it doubled in size to 2.6 million square feet in 2001. In fiscal 2004, the Convention Center booked 233 events that drew 495,995 out-of-town visitors. In 2005, the out-of-town visitor count for 224 events stood at 494,150, according to the Convention Center Corp.’s most recent annual report.
The Hilton is one of the largest hotels in the country to be built without a municipal subsidy. To get the deal done in the face of escalating construction costs, the Port District agreed to give the hotel a $46.5 million rent reduction during its first 10 years. That includes the time it takes to complete construction. The lease runs for 66 years. But the agency also required that the owners construct a 4.3-acre park adjacent to the hotel and include $2 million worth of public art.
The bay-front Hilton will contain 106,050 square feet of meeting space, including a grand ballroom, two smaller ballrooms and 22 meeting rooms. The 966-room Town & Country Hotel in Mission Valley has 165,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space, the most of any hotel in the county, followed by the 1,625-room Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel, which has 125,000 square feet of meeting space, and the 1,345-room Marriott Hotel and Marina, with 110,000.
Other Hilton amenities will include retail shops, restaurants, a fitness facility and spa, as well as a business center, lounge and caf & #233;.
While boxy in appearance, the slim, 30-story rectangular structure, which will stand perpendicular to the waterfront southeast of the Convention Center along Harbor Drive, was designed to minimize the obstruction of views from Downtown, Ochoa said.
Blending In With The Surroundings
The plan, according to Joseph Wong, the principal of San Diego-based Joseph Wong Design Associates, which teamed with Portman in the design, is to erect a building that is “not obtrusive.”
“I think the orientation for the layout of this project is very appropriate,” Wong said.
As Ochoa pointed out, the hotel’s “high-tech” design on a site that formerly housed the Campbell Shipyard is intended to complement the industrial activity at the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal, as well as the modern design of the Convention Center. While none of the public art pieces for the park and surrounding area have been commissioned, the idea is that they too will reflect maritime industry.
“The hotel is also intended to line up with the Manchester Hyatt like bookends on either side of the Convention Center,” Ochoa said.
Another feature of the project’s design is to maximize pedestrian traffic in Downtown by making the public park the endpoint for a planned walkway leading to Petco Park that will bridge Harbor Drive. Automobile traffic to the hotel will be routed to a driveway 20 feet above its ground-level entrance via an existing parking garage with 2,000 spaces that fronts onto Harbor Drive, Ochoa said. The Port District spent $26 million to build the garage.
The project has received a complimentary nod from hotelier Doug Manchester, who owns Manchester Grand Hyatt and is a partner in the Marriott Hotel and Marina, which currently serve as the city’s two major convention hotels.
Manchester, who bid to build a hotel on the former Campbell Shipyard site in 1999, was paid $5 million by the Port District in 2001 to renounce his rights after feuding with the agency over the property’s design.
“We’d master-planned a more aesthetically pleasing property,” Manchester said. “But I do agree that the Hilton will appear like a bookend to the Convention Center. It will complement it, and it’s needed.”