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A voiceofsandiego.org reader sent us two questions:
1. “Can a developer put hotels on the Navy’s Hospital land in Balboa Park?”
2. “Would the public’s concerns be different if it was, say Ernie Hahn, rather than Mr. Manchester, proposing the project on the waterfront?”
I’m not sure how free and clear the Navy’s title is to the land in Balboa park under and surrounding the Navy Hospital. Perhaps some more experienced members of Citizen’s Coordinate for Century (C-3) which sued the Navy trying to get the Navy Hospital out of Balboa Park will write and fill us all in on who owns the land and what the Navy is allowed to do with it. Or perhaps Admiral Hering and his staff can help us out on this one.
If the Navy is allowed to basically “sell” the Navy Broadway Complex to MFG (with a 99 year lease), and allow MFG to build millions of square feet of commercial buildings on the site, does that set a legal precedent under which the Navy could do the same thing with the Navy Hospital site in Balboa Park, should it ever decide it no longer needs the hospital? I think this is something the City Attorney’s office should look into carefully, and be ready to express an opinion at the upcoming City Council meeting on the NBC project proposal.
In response to question number two, I don’t know what the public’s reaction would be to any other developer proposing to build this same project on the NBC site. But I knew Ernie Hahn personally, and I don’t believe Ernie would ever propose a project like this on downtown’s bayfront. Ernie chaired the 1992 downtown community plan update committee and was instrumental in creating CCDC, in large part because he was truly committed to bringing downtown back from the dead after years of neglect due to previous city councils helping developers invest the city’s resources into sprawl development, at the expense of downtown. In fact, the downtown community planning committee actually spent a lot of time discussing whether or not the current City Hall site should be sold and the revenue used to build a new city hall on the waterfront. In the end, they recommended than a new City Hall should be built well off the bayfront, at the head of Broadway as a means of revitalizing Centre City East.
Ernie felt strongly that the downtown bayfront should be a public park-like gathering place for the people and not just something to be paved over for a quick buck. He understood how we’d walled off downtown from its waterfront with the original convention center and the Marriot Hotel complex, and certainly didn’t want to see that happen to downtown’s north embarcadero.
I think that if he were alive today, Ernie would be leading the charge to prevent the NBC site from being covered with tall, bulky commercial buildings that could just as easily and profitably be built somewhere else downtown, and would be championing public uses for one of the last remaining sections of our downtown bayfront that hasn’t already been walled off.