Come March 31, the fate of the Navy Broadway Complex could finally be sealed following years of planning and negotiation. But some Downtown development interests are optimistic that they’ll still have a voice in shaping what has been called the “front porch” of the North Embarcadero.
The Navy has issued a request for proposal on what would be a mixed-use redevelopment of the 14.72-acre parcel at Broadway and North Harbor Drive, where West Broadway meets San Diego Bay. The deliberations are top secret , an ongoing concern in some camps.
But the Downtown San Diego Partnership, a coalition of businesses ranging from real estate, banking and insurance to law, energy and hospitality, has since been reassured by the Centre City Development Corp., which oversees Downtown redevelopment for the city.
“We had discussions with the CCDC, because we thought that we wouldn’t have a chance to comment,” said Kevin Casey, the vice president of public policy for the privately funded nonprofit group. “We were told that wasn’t the case. Once the design comes out, groups like ours will have input. This is not something that is going to be shoved down our throats.”
Jason Luker, a CCDC communications specialist, agreed, saying that the agency would be setting up a series of workshops for public feedback on the project’s design.
“We’ve set everything up for success,” he said. “We don’t think the Navy will choose a design that is radically out of line. They’ve been incredible partners. I don’t think this is going to be a big stinker of a project.”
The redevelopment of the complex is considered to be the anchor to the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, created in 1997 by the CCDC, the city and county, the San Diego Unified Port District and the Navy. The 1992 agreement between the city and Navy establishes a mixed-use waterfront development that would incorporate public plazas, parks, piers, and other public attractions, along with shops, offices and a hotel.
“The Navy didn’t have to sign that agreement with us,” said Luker. “I think they had the foresight to know that their project should fit seamlessly in with that.”
Capt. Jacqueline C. Yost, director of public affairs for the Navy Region Southwest, echoed that sentiment.
“It sometimes gets confusing,” she said. “Individuals fear that the Navy is making the final decision, which is true. But the criteria we are using in the RFP are in concert with meeting the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan.”
The initial design, said Yost, will be part of “an evolving product,” with room for “flexibility and negotiation.” But the agreement between the city and the Navy, which is incorporated into the RFP, “is non-negotiable,” she added. “They have to be met.”
On Feb. 18, Mayor Jerry Sanders declared his support of the redevelopment , sight unseen , at a news conference, saying that the city’s support was based on trust.
Consisting of eight city blocks, the complex is bordered by Broadway, North Harbor Drive, West Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway , prime property that has been coveted by many developers for years.
It now serves as the headquarters of the Navy Region Southwest, which provides base operating support and services for all operating forces and shore activities in the Southwest region, including Navy installations in California, Arizona and Nevada, and Naval Facilities Engineering Command.
Stath Karras, the president and chief executive officer of Burnham Real Estate in San Diego, recalls a gathering of potential bidders at an early information session on the project.
But just how many actually submitted bids is an open question.
“It’s a massive undertaking,” said Karras. “I don’t know how many have the ability to take on a project like that.”
But the Navy isn’t limited to a single developer, said Julie Meier Wright, the chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., which helps companies locate and expand here.
“They can put together a coalition or a team,” she said. “My guess is that when the Navy rolls it out at the end of March, we will be very pleased.”
The clock is ticking. The Department of Defense’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission has set Jan. 1 as the deadline for the Navy to enter into a long-term lease, or the complex could be closed.
The Navy is expected to sign an exclusive agreement with a development team by the end of March. Both parties will spend the remainder of the year hammering out the details of the redevelopment plan, which will include the Navy’s need for at least 327,000 square feet of administrative space. The lease agreement would then be signed, Yost said. The Navy has estimated that ground could be broken on the project in a year to a year and a half.
Yost challenges public perceptions that the Navy will be erecting drab, utilitarian buildings on the site to serve its needs.
“It couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said. “The Navy’s office spaces will blend into the rest of the 14-acre parcel and the North Embarcadero.”
The public should remember, said Yost, that many of the military buildings there were built in the 1920s, and some during World War II.
“Applying standards now to what was built then is apples and oranges,” she said.
As to suggestions that the Navy could easily move its operations elsewhere, freeing up the prime waterfront space, Yost disagreed.
“We have Navy bases in San Diego , formerly 32nd Street, and North Island and Point Loma,” she said. “On the surface, it looks like we have enough space, but many people are not aware of future plans the Navy has for those bases.”
For instance, she said, there will be the staged relocation of 10 mine warfare ships from Ingleside, Texas, as part of the BRAC process. San Diego also will get a new class of combat ship, the USS Freedom.
“The first one will be home-ported in San Diego, but we expect others of that class, so we need to continue to have that flexibility at the waterfront for those types of forces,” said Yost.
Overall, she said, “We’ve been working with the city over 12 years in developing the plan, and I think the city and the citizens will be very happy with what will be developed at the Broadway Complex.”