Thursday, September 15, 2005 | The Base Realignment and Closure Commission has determined that it will not recommend closure of the Broadway Complex. Instead, BRAC has voted to give the Navy and the city of San Diego 16 months to enter into a long-term lease for redevelopment of the site by Jan. 1, 2007. That gives the community 16 months to come up with an acceptable plan that is in the best interest of the community.
Recent articles have talked about the opportunity to redevelop the site for “. . . a mixed-use development of hotels, offices, shops, a museum, condos and parking” and a new Navy headquarters. The goal is to reuse this underutilized site to take advantage of its special location on the downtown waterfront in a way that will generate revenue to offset the public costs and assist in the funding of the North and South Embarcadero Visionary Plans.
But, is the redevelopment of the site for hotels the most visionary and the best choice for the community? Since John Nolen prepared the comprehensive plan of San Diego in 1907, and in all subsequent plans, the goal has been to make the downtown bay front our “front porch.” The water’s edge has been proposed for park-like promenades. In addition, major parks have been proposed for the county building, the South Embarcadero and the foot of Broadway. The park is in place at the south end of the Convention Center and its linkage across Harbor Drive is in the works as is the park at the county building.
Consequently, we now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create the park at the foot of Broadway.
Of course, it’s a given that the concerns are going to be where the money will come from to develop a park and will it generate future funds. Both very valid questions; but they are not the correct ones to ask. Rather, the essential ones to ask are what is the best use of this unique waterfront parcel and how can it best serve the region? And, the correct answer is, most assuredly: The park, the park, the often-proposed park!
In a recent letter to the editor, Ken Sulzer, former executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments, suggested that we look at the Millennium Park in Chicago. The 24.5-acre park was created by spanning railroad yards and parking lots. It cost $475 million, was over budget and four years behind schedule when it opened last summer. But, if you ask Chicagoans, they will tell you that it was well-worth waiting for and cheap at twice the price.
Moreover, it addresses the questions about funding as well. The historic high-rise buildings lining the west side of Michigan Avenue across from the park – previously underutilized and threatened with demolition – have become the city’s prime real estate, generating increased taxes and bringing new residents downtown. The park has become the place in the region for people to be and it is the source of increased revenues for downtown Chicago. Consequently, all of this more than makes up for the park’s costs.
Nevertheless, what is even more important is that Millennium Park has done what civic improvements are supposed to do: Lift our hearts and inspire us!
We are being given the unique opportunity to do something similar for the present and future generations of San Diego. Even though our community presently has a lot of pressing problems, that (temporary) circumstance doesn’t let us off the hook for thinking about the future. Let’s make sure we don’t blow it this time.
Michael Stepner is an expert in city planning and urban design. He was the dean of the NewSchool of Architecture & Design and was employed by the city of San Diego for 26 years as an architect, planner and urban designer.