SEAPORT VILLAGE SITE PROPOSALS TOO DENSE
The six proposed redevelopment plans for the somewhat outdated site of Seaport Village created a lot of controversy and consideration for the appropriate use of this jewel site of the harbor waterfront. Judging by the letters to editor in the San Diego Union Tribune and supplemental commentaries, a large number of San Diego citizens would prefer to keep the present configuration with upgrade modifications.
When I first heard that the present lease would expire in 2018, I was in favor of replacing most of the present development consisting of low-end concessions and a lot of knickknack shops. When I saw the renderings of the six proposals, I suddenly was drawn back to the quaintness and low-rise profile of the present Seaport Village. This choice location on the bay front should not be totally consumed with high-rise hotels, massive arenas, fun zone rides and other structures that would not create a casual park-like environment.
If you look at a photograph taken from the other side of the bay and view the background for the Seaport Village site, there is a solid wall of high-rise structures, with more to be added by the development of the Navy property. Then you can understand why this site should be low-rise with lots of open space. That’s what the present development offers and attracts considerable tourist trade.
Before the Port District and governing government agencies plunge into this major redevelopment of both Seaport Village and an open site on Harbor Island, they should complete the 50-year master plan for the Port of San Diego. Critics request that the Port press the pause button on what they dub as “piecemeal planning” and instead finish the master plan first, according to Roger Showley in the San Diego Union Tribune.
Criticism of the proposed Port projects also applies to the redevelopment of the 13.7 acre Navy Broadway Complex by the Manchester group at the foot of Broadway that provides a massive wall of high-rise structures on the waterfront. That project, that is not administered by the Port District, continues to be pushed back according to the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition.
Of course, self-appointed ombudsman attorney Corey Briggs has already threatened to sue the Port District over any development plan, including Seaport Village and Harbor Island, until the master plan is approved by the California Coastal Commission. If the Port expects to select the Seaport Village developer by the end of this year, it seems the time schedule is a little tight for such a major project that will affect the entire waterfront for the next 50 years.
So what are these proposals presently submitted and what is the extent of the land coverage? The Manchester group proposes a hotel, a 2000-seat Performing Arts Hall and a 400-foot gondola ride; the Ripley Entertainment proposal is a 4.3 acre aquarium complex with a moving glide path through tunnels in the large tanks of sea life; the Great Western Pacific proposal is focused on seafood concessions, a brewing company and a 200-foot giant Ferris wheel.
Judging these three proposals indicates that this beautiful waterfront site is merely turned into an amusement park which I’m sure will draw tourists and provide sufficient lease income to the Port of San Diego. However, is this what we want for this unique location?
Among the other three proposals are one from Oliver McMillan providing three hotels with 1700 rooms, an 18,000 seat sports and entertainment venue and 325,000 sq. ft. of retail space; the McWhinney and DJM Capital Partners proposal also includes three hotels but only 515 rooms, maritime-related office space, 330,000 sq. ft. of retail and restaurant concessions and for entertainment a wave-making pool with adjoining fitness center; the Protea Waterfront Development proposal is for three hotels with 1077 rooms, an aquarium, a 480-foot thrill ride observation tower and a floating barge with a giant movie screen and stage.
My response to these three proposals is, how many more hotels do we want lining the harbor front? Again developers seem to think we need an amusement park and thrill rides in this location. This concept is so contrary to the original Port District development of the harbor lands into low-rise tourist facilities and parks for use by tourists as well as San Diego residents. These proposals do not comply with this concept and are so obviously under consideration for the commercial income to enhance the operations of the Port District.
I have been writing about the maritime services provided by the Port for over 20 years and have been aware that the loss of the Lindbergh Field management was a deep cut into the budget of the Port District. In recent years any new development appears to be centered more on what the Port can benefit from increased lease rentals rather than sticking to the open space and harbor views originally provided.
When the Port Commissioners first announced redevelopment of Seaport Village, consultants urged construction of an iconic landmark that would define San Diego. They referred to the Sydney Opera House and the Seattle Space Needle. That unleashed proposals for a massive, soaring hotel and arts center resembling the prow of a ship, among other skyline obstructions.
So what is a workable solution to satisfy the public and to meet Port District goals? First, eliminate the high-rise structures and amusement park facilities or at least limit them to preserve a more open, park-like area, not a mall or fun zone.
Second, consider upgrading a portion of the quaint “village” site, add adequate parking and spot in some new revenue-producing development keeping it low-rise.
Third, complete the 50-year master plan for Port development with approvals before selecting a developer. Caution: without adequate planning, the Seaport Village site will be stuck in courts for years, denying income to the Port.
On July 13, there will be an open public hearing for the redevelopment proposals that is expected to be heavily attended. Critics of the density for the Seaport Village site should be furnished the estimated lease income for each of the projects. It is obviously of considerable interest to the Port Commissioners to select a development that provides optimum lease rental income. Only the estimated construction costs of each project provided by the developer has been revealed without the projected revenues.