Monday, March 28, 2005 | These days, the Naval Training Center is Corkytown. One drives warily among unearthed streets, jungles of developer’s signs and earthmovers.

Corky McMillin, the region’s most impervious developer, has erected no shy lack of redundant signs, including one commanding panel that identifies the site of the future home of The McMillin Cos. Corky has completed his 349 spec homes on this once stately acreage, the last gorgeous in-holding of public land in San Diego.

The city proposes to chip in $5.85 million in rehabilitation grants from tax increment funding. The rest is up to Foundation fundraising, which has raised an additional $2 million. The rehab is expected to take five years and cost $60 million.

Renovations will progress in modest increments. But, since this is Southern California, one detail is said to be assured: NTC will have 5,400 parking spaces.

San Diegans are not yet in the habit of wandering at will into this grand old base, which defines the portal of Point Loma along Rosecrans Street. It was off-limits during more than five decades, while hundreds of thousands of Navy recruits endured the shaving of their heads and fell faint as their bodies were driven by drill masters on parade grounds that now become picnic grounds.

No city contract in modern memory roused outrage among more San Diegans than this one. To some, those 349 spec homes seemed blasphemy on a park-like site that could have become another Balboa Park by the bay. The contract was approved by a city council that was openly lobbied in City Hall corridors by McMillin and his staff. It was presided over by then-mayor Susan Golding, and eventually condensed into an obtuse 813-page contract within the offices of Casey Gwinn, the former city attorney.

But on Thursday, cheery faces gathered outside the commandant’s office at NTC as Phil Blair, the foundation chairman, called the names of 18 community groups that will share space in the first six historic buildings to be renovated. Work will begin next month and be completed in the fall. There will be “rolling openings” of historic buildings to public use for at least the next four years.

Meanwhile, NTC has developed as a neighborhood in itself. A smart 500-family Navy housing facility has gone partway toward easing the crisis of lodging in San Diego. McMillin has built the upscale residential neighborhood, and Huntington Group will launch work on two new hotels in 2006. Its education district is already home to three schools under the banner of the much heralded High Tech High. No more homebuilding is about to begin.

Those of us who deplored circumstances surrounding the city’s award of NTC redevelopment to McMillin, and its blithe release of McMillin from obligations to which he had committed, look back on those actions now from within the shadows of a disgraced city government that had not yet then sunk to its nadir.

As loyal San Diegans, we have no honorable choice but to accept the development process at NTC and continue to serve as its watchdogs. The beginnings of freshening in the historic district, though long past due, are reassuring. They will be pleasant to watch. And so will be the artists and performers who find their stages and easels here in future years.

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