Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006 | In an effort to add more parkland to downtown’s waterfront, the city of San Diego is negotiating with the developer of the controversial Navy Broadway Complex to remove one building from the proposed project’s blueprints.
Mayor Jerry Sanders has been hammering out an agreement in recent weeks with developer Doug Manchester to lease about one acre on the 14.7-acre military property in hopes of stemming the growing public criticism that Manchester’s redevelopment plan is too bulky and bland for downtown’s harbor, a Sanders aide said Tuesday.
The move came as a surprise to many officials involved in planning the overhaul of the 83-year-old Navy hub, including the Navy itself and the downtown redevelopment board that is reviewing the proposal on the city’s behalf.
If approved, the alternative plan would tap the downtown redevelopment board’s parks fund to lease a 40,000-square-foot lot that is currently scheduled to house a museum and office building. James Waring, the mayor’s land-use chief, said the acre would be used as parkland to complement the 1.9-acre park that is slated to be developed across E Street along Harbor Drive.
Financial terms are being negotiated and will not be disclosed until a deal is struck, Waring said.
“It’s a complex process and there are still a lot of subtleties to be worked out,” he said.
Perry Dealy, president of Manchester Financial Group, said he is optimistic that an agreement will work and hopes to have an agreement finalized “in the next few days.”
Meanwhile, the Centre City Development Corp., the downtown redevelopment arm that is vetting Manchester’s plans on behalf of the city, will not make a final decision on whether the development proposal passes muster with the guidelines the city and Navy set forth in 1992 until Oct. 4 at the earliest.
Since April, CCDC has held several public meetings where residents, urban planners and business groups have scrutinized Manchester’s plans and offered alternatives of their own. One frequent criticism of the current redevelopment plan is that it is too dense for the key waterfront parcel and should be used to develop an iconic project for San Diego, such as a rolling park, a performing arts venue or at least a scaled-down set of buildings.
Many of the project’s critics were excited about the tentative deal’s potential impact on the Navy parcel, which is enclosed by Broadway, Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway, saying it could possibly lead to a more signature design for the city’s “front porch.”
“It opens it up for discussion and that’s a good start,” said urban planner Michael Stepner, who co-authored the 1992 agreement that governs the redevelopment project but has since said downtown has outgrown the plans. “It gives us an opportunity to play with some of the buildings.”
Elected officials have attempted to involve themselves in the Navy Broadway Complex debate by proposing new studies and holding public hearings, but the terms of the 1992 contract between the city and the Navy have left little room for political maneuvering.
Sanders could be the first elected official to pierce the redevelopment plans if his tentative deal with Manchester is approved.
Transforming the western portion of the block between E and F streets from a 200-foot office-and-museum building into a park would create a continuous two-block green space that straddles E Street, Dealy said. Each of the project’s four blocks are drawn up to hold two structures, bisected by a promenade. The two northernmost blocks would have parkland sweeping across its western halves if Sanders’ deal is approved.
Dealy is hoping the deal will help deflect some of the public resentment toward the Manchester project.
“You’re going to have to get a read from the city, but this really shows that we’ve made a great effort to create a win-win situation by adding this open space,” he said.
Gary Smith, the president of the San Diego Downtown Residents Group, said he wondered why Manchester was essentially selling land rights back to the city when the developer initially included more open space in the plans he unveiled in April. That open space was free to the city then, so it makes sense that the developer give it back free for parkland today, Smith said.
“I love the mayor’s proposal, but why are we paying?” Smith said.
If the developer wouldn’t cede the land himself, Smith said he was in favor of Sanders’ plan, as long as the city was using the money that was set aside for parks and not for other amenities, such as sidewalks, street lamps and other infrastructure.
“Every dollar that is diverted from going toward infrastructure is one dollar that we can’t spend on streetlights and sidewalks in East Village,” he said.
CCDC board member Fred Maas said he learned about the mayor’s park proposal when Waring presented it to the approximately 120 people who attended Tuesday’s meeting, and said he was reluctant to comment. He did say that the planned use of the park funds that CCDC monitors would be “one of the challenges of the debate.”
Capt. Mike Allen, the chief of staff for Navy Region Southwest, the property’s owners, also said he did not know about the park plan until Tuesday.
“We were not part of this agreement,” Allen said.
Officials from the Navy and CCDC said they had not determined the impact of Sanders’ park plan on the 1992 agreement, but people involved in the deal said removing the building would reduce about 250,000 square feet from the 2.9 million square feet that is currently scheduled to be built there.
“The Navy doesn’t really require us to build this [building],” Dealy said.
Currently, Manchester’s design dispenses the required 40,000 square feet of ground-level museum space into two buildings. The 20,000 square feet of museum space that was drawn into the building that the mayor wants to remove would have to be relocated somewhere else on the property
The Navy selected Manchester earlier this year to develop its headquarters for the southwest region. In exchange, Manchester would be given the right to lease the surrounding land and build hotels, offices and shops.