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Wednesday, June 7, 2006| I served on the Bayfront Complex Coordinating Group, which was convened by the San Diego Association of Governments, the Center City Development Corp., the city and the Unified Port District in the late 1980s and assigned to develop design guidelines for redevelopment of the Navy Broadway Complex.
As I recall, the BCCG was unable to reach consensus on how many square feet of commercial development should be allowed on this site, or what floor-area ratios should be used in designing the project, but we did settle on some basic design principles, which were supposed to guide this planning process.
Despite the fact that the BCCG never reached consensus on, or took a final vote on building heights and the amount of commercial space to be allowed on the site, staff included the largest building heights and commercial development figures the group discussed in the 1990 Downtown Community Plan update, and those figures subsequently found their way into the Navy’s EIS and the development agreement signed by the city and the Navy in 1992. They have been treated as gospel ever since.
The current design standards for the Navy Broadway Complex, or NBC, were developed in an earlier era when downtown was in a recession, and the city wanted to attract any commercial development it could get
That is no longer the case, and approval of the latest proposal could very well end up bankrupting Horton Plaza and other office and commercial areas of downtown. Cruise-ship tourists currently make up a large percentage of Horton Plaza’s business, according to merchants with stores in the facility. If tourists are convinced to stay on the bayfront and not walk inland, that business could very well be lost. The other hotels on San Diego’s bayfront could lose business to the proposed executive suite hotels to be located on the top floors of the towers being proposed for the NBC site.
The latest proposal from the Manchester Financial Group (MFG) appears to ignore the project design standards in several ways. The design plan called for four tall, thin buildings to be built on the site, two hotels, one office tower and the new Navy headquarters.
The latest proposal calls for eight major buildings on the site.
The standards call for the top 25 percent of all buildings on the site to be articulated, with stepbacks making them thinner as they go higher, and peaked roofs or domes. All the buildings in the latest proposal’s concept drawings are flat. The standards require a broad pedestrian walkway along the east side of Harbor Drive extending from Seaport Village to Broadway, but many of the buildings to be built long Harbor Drive appear to extend all the way to the street on the latest drawings from MFG.
I hope that our congressional delegation will introduce federal legislation that will extend the BRAC deadline on the Navy Broadway Complex for two more years, and I ask that the city and the Navy sit down and negotiate additional amendments to the development agreement that would substantially reduce the amount of commercial development to be placed on the site.
The development agreement should be amended to preserve most of the NBC project site as an open space waterfront park for the enjoyment of downtown residents and other San Diegan’s for decades to come. With these changes, the project could still provide the Navy with its new headquarters building and be economically viable, and avoid extending the existing giant wall of tall and bulky buildings on our waterfront from the south embarcadero to Broadway.
Don Wood is a member of Bayfront Complex Coordinating Group.