Shortly after my last post on the new developments in the story about the Navy Broadway Complex, I got a call from the Mayor’s Office. I’m still processing it.

Jim Waring, Mayor Jerry Sanders’ land-use chief, and public relations handler George Biagi wanted to make sure I understood what was going on.

Remember, I had worried about this little compromise option that Sanders’ team was working up with developer Doug Manchester.

Waring didn’t deny that the city was going to have to send a big check over to Manchester to wrestle away this extra 40,000 square feet – or about a half-block – of the proposed development and turn it into a “park.” Manchester, under this proposal, is set for a big pay day if the city decides to basically sublease part of his planned lease with the Navy.

But Waring wanted this to be put in perspective. And I think he has some good points.

Waring says we have to respect the teeth in this contract between Doug Manchester and the Navy, and we have to respect the deal between the Navy and the city.

Maybe I’m behind but I didn’t know this about the Navy complex: the city has had several, several, opportunities since 1992 to let its agreement with the Navy die.

Let me say that a different way. It’s pretty clear that because of a 1992 agreement, the city is stuck developing the Navy Broadway Complex into something as commercial and unattractive as Manchester has envisioned. If it wasn’t Manchester, Waring said, it would be another developer proposing something as bad if not worse.

We could have let the Navy, instead, close the complex. But, get this, the city lobbied the Navy last year to go through this exact process. The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and others, including the city of San Diego, begged the Navy not to close the Navy Broadway Complex but instead to let somebody like Manchester redevelop the property.

This was last year.

“The sad thing is, that from the time this thing was first inked in 1992, we had three or four different opportunities to terminate this agreement. The city, however, each time reaffirmed the development agreement. It would have died all by itself had we not done that,” Waring said.

So not only did the city ink the 1992 agreement to build something like this at the Broadway complex, it decided over and over again – as recently as last year – that this Manchester-type thing was exactly what we wanted.

Good lord. And now that Manchester has actually drawn it up and shown what it looked like, we’re all amazed that it’s so unspectacular.

“I have been working on this thing for several weeks and I will tell you this development agreement has some very significant constraints,” Waring said.

So, the mayor is now taking the position that if this is reality, perhaps we should try to do our best to secure more open space and less density.

And in order to do that, we’re going to have to pay Doug Manchester. It’s really not any more complicated than that.

The Navy is giving Manchester the lease to the whole lot. If we want more of it to be a park, it’s going to cost us.

How much? I estimated $500 per square foot. Waring said: “that’s in the neighborhood.”

So, the calculator tells me Manchester would charge us about $20 million to put a new additional little park into his grand proposal for one of San Diego’s most beautifully located pieces of real estate. That could be higher if he’s counting all the added density rights he would have purchased.

Why does Manchester get such great positioning?

“He has the right to sign a lease with the Navy. It’s a property interest. If he signs that lease, he owns the property right. What we would buy from him is a property right,” Waring said.

The mayor just wants to float this option to the Centre City Development Corp. If it wants to spend the money to buy this “property right” from Manchester to secure a little park, it can. If it doesn’t, it won’t.

“It’s entirely up to them,” Waring said.

I don’t know what to think. I really don’t.

I still have trouble wrapping my mind around how Doug Manchester could get $20 million if we decide we really want a little park there. But I can’t help but worry that a decade’s worth of city leaders made that our only option.

SCOTT LEWIS

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