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Monday, June 12, 2006 | The Navy and the developer it selected to revamp central chunk of downtown waterfront property have until the end of 2006 to strike a deal that passes muster with the city of San Diego’s downtown planners and the Pentagon.

If no deal is reached, the highly contentious redevelopment project known as the Navy Broadway Complex will slip through real estate magnate Doug Manchester’s fingers and the Navy will have to pull up stakes from the prime piece of real estate.

The Jan. 1 deadline could also totally eliminate what limited role the city has in shaping one of the last undeveloped waterfront stretches in town.

Although the city’s influence on the Navy plan is more limited than most projects, its downtown redevelopment arm does hold some final authority over what the final design of the high-profile development looks like. If city officials spike the deal, as some hope, or if Manchester and the Navy don’t finalize a pact by the first of the year, a myriad of federal agencies will have dibs on the plot of land ahead of City Hall.

“If this fails, those buildings could be replaced by a Homeland Security heliport or a new immigrant jail for the Justice Department,” said Gary Smith, the president of the San Diego Downtown Residents Group.

Smith is one of several critics who say Manchester’s plan includes too many buildings that wall off the rest of the city from the waterfront and don’t amount to the civic project they envision for the space. But he said the current agreement – which allows the Centre City Development Corp., the city’s downtown redevelopment arm, to have some influence over the project’s design – needs to be hammered out before the city loses its influence altogether.

Retired banker and former CCDC Chairman Peter Q. Davis has also been critical of the process, arguing that Manchester’s plans call for “too much density on land that is too sensitive and too historic.”

He said it could be a fine idea to take the risk and let the deadline expire, thereby opening up the land to the Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure – or BRAC – process.

Davis said no other military branch would take the land if the Navy didn’t want it already, and believes other federal agencies would pass because they wouldn’t have the money to pay for it. If the property survives the gamut of potential takers, the city could then propose a more iconic usage of the site, Davis said.

“I don’t see BRAC as end of the world and the monster that others paint it to be,” Davis said.

The Jan. 1 deadline for an agreement was included as part of the most recent round of base closures last year. That latest round of BRAC consolidated military operations nationwide, but allowed the city and Navy to work out a 1992 agreement to redevelop the Navy Broadway Center, which lies between Harbor Drive, Broadway and Pacific Highway.

The 1992 pact allows the Navy to swap out its current facilities – comprised of dreary gray office buildings and a sprawling parking lot that is mostly vacant – for a state-of-the-art command center for Navy Region Southwest. CCDC will have to sign off on the final deal presented by Manchester and the Navy.

Manchester was selected by the Navy as the developer in April, giving him the opportunity to negotiate a swap that gives him a long-term lease on properties that he will use to build a complex featuring five-star hotels, retail space and a museum. In exchange, he would build the Navy its new headquarters for free.

For the city, the agreement afforded it the opportunity to help reshape the land into an attraction for tourists and residents. CCDC will have a chance to weigh Manchester’s proposal against the criteria that is laid out in the 1992 pact. If CCDC approves, Manchester and the Navy will finalize the terms of the project, which must then be approved by the Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General by Jan. 1.

If not, the property will be disposed of the same way other shuttered military facilities are in BRAC.

Under the 2005 BRAC law, the Pentagon would then allow other branches of the military as well as federal agencies to submit proposals to reuse the downtown property – in whole or in part, Navy spokeswoman Jill Votow said.

If the Pentagon’s inspector general approves another military use for the site, that branch of the Armed Forces would receive it for free. Federal agencies outside the military – be it NASA, the Small Business Administration or the Department of Energy, for example – would have to pay market rate for the property if selected, but could get a discount if military brass finds a public benefit with the proposed use, Votow said.

The federal agencies have a month to tell the Pentagon their interest, and another 30 days to submit a proposal. Selecting a new federal use of the site could take another month or two, Votow said.

It’s after that round of bids by federal agencies that the city could make a pitch to take up the property. In the 1990s, the city received the shuttered Naval Training Center in Point Loma for free under the banner of economic development. This time around, Votow said, the city would have to pay market price for the parcel, although the public-benefit discount could potentially be applied.

In the meantime, CCDC and members of the public have been weighing in on Manchester’s proposal. CCDC must find that the redevelopment plans comply with the technical aspects of the 1992 agreement, such as the project’s square-footage, usages and designs. But members of the CCDC board are also beginning to flex their authority on some of the project’s aesthetics as a growing discord has sprouted in the community since Manchester has unveiled – and then altered – his plans since April.

“We were all presented with a wonderful picture at first that a lot of us bought into,” CCDC board member Fred Maas said. “Obviously it’s been replaced with something we’re not comfortable with.”

Public workshops have turned out hundreds of individuals, with most of them disapproving of Manchester’s plans to build up the four-block area.

The outcry forced Manchester to trim some of the bulk off his buildings to create more public space and a better view of the water from the urban core. But several in the community say the 1992 agreement is so flawed that no compromise under its provisions suffices.

In meetings and workshops, members of the public have said they want to see a project for the waterfront property on par with the Sydney opera house, Millennium Park in Chicago and Pier 39 in San Francisco.

The next public presentation of the Navy Broadway Complex is scheduled for June 28 in front of the full CCDC board. The meeting will be held in the City Council chambers, located on the 12th floor of the City Administration Building at 202 C St., downtown.

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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