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Friday, March 16, 2007 | Gaylord Entertainment unveiled Thursday its most detailed vision of the 2 million-square-foot convention center and resort the company wants to construct on Chula Vista’s bay front, as about 400 people packed into two meetings to catch a glimpse of the planned centerpiece of city officials’ redevelopment efforts there.

In front of two overflow crowds, Gaylord laid out a 30-minute slideshow of the meeting and lodging facility, which supporters hope will spark development on the city’s west side to complement the building boom that has taken place inland over the past decade.

Gaylord touted the success of three convention sites it operates across the United States and included several architectural renderings of the planned Chula Vista project. But company officials acknowledged that several details, including those surrounding the building’s environmental standards, will not be released until the Port District’s environmental study of the project is completed several months from now.

With the aid of visuals, the project’s architects described the Gaylord development, which will include 400,000 square feet of exhibit halls, ballrooms and meeting rooms, roughly the size of the San Diego Convention Center before its expansion in the 1990s. With 1,500 rooms, the complex’s hotel would be among the largest in the county. The company is planning to equip the resort with six restaurants, a nightclub, multiple swimming pools, 8,000 square feet of shops and a full-service spa.

Physically, the building would be 100-feet high around the edges with a slender 300-foot tower of hotel rooms poking through the center. The hotel tower and a courtyard lined with shops and nature-like surroundings would serve as a bottleneck between an expansive rectangular building, which would hold the convention center and parking lot, and two diagonal wings of hotel rooms that would branch outward on the bay side of the facility. Entrances to the building would be designed to be elevated up to 26 feet above ground level to enhance visitors’ views.

The Gaylord complex would be located in the middle portion of Chula Vista’s bay-front redevelopment area, known as the Harbor District. The site is just north of the city’s marina, and faces the wetlands separating it from San Diego Bay to the west and a signature park to the north.

The electronic visuals on display at both the afternoon and early evening meetings that took place in the Chula Vista City Council chambers won the approval of most of the attendees.

“One of our goals was to create something with a ‘wow’ factor, and I think you did it,” said Jack Blakely, executive director of the Third Avenue Village Association and a member of the citizen panel that has been advising the city and port on bay-front redevelopment.

Others, such as resident Terry Thomas, another member of the advisory board, said they thought the proposed glitzy, state-of-the-art building would contrast too much with the bay-front’s natural surroundings and favored Spanish-style architecture that blended in better with the rest of the city.

The meetings were a popular draw, as the first meeting’s hefty attendance forced the fire marshal to direct attendees to overflow rooms around City Hall. Thursday’s meeting was called to allow the public a glimpse of the project, which likely won’t be operable for another four years, but attendees’ discussion drifted into other facets of the project, such as its ability to kick-start other development on the bay front or whether the development would include environmental safeguards.

Waterfront Designs

  • The Issue: Gaylord officials presented sketches for a mega-development on Chula Vista’s waterfront that will include a convention center, hotel and resort.
  • What It Means: The building would be 100 feet high around the edges with a slender 300-foot tower of hotel rooms poking through the center. The hotel tower and a courtyard lined with shops and nature-like surroundings would serve as a bottleneck between an expansive rectangular building that would include the convention center.
  • The Bigger Picture: Officials hope the development will spark redevelopment on Chula Vista’s west side after years of growth in its east side.

Several members of local unions inquired about the wages Gaylord will pay the workers who both construct the project and those who will help it operate on a day-to-day basis. Bennett Westbrook, senior vice president at Gaylord, said the company has agreed to allow the resort’s workers to decide whether they want to organize with the local hotel employees’ union. Westbrook was less precise about pay guarantees for construction workers or whether a so-called living wage will be paid, but said, “We’re unwilling to do anything that reduces competition for building the project because the project can’t afford it.”

Local business leaders, many donning “We Support Gaylord” stickers, said they were anxious to add a large meeting-and-event facility to the South Bay. Tom Money, a local Realtor, said the 1961 prom he attended as a senior at Chula Vista High School had to be held at the Hotel del Coronado because the area lacked a suitable place for the event, an experience his children also had to share.

“My oldest daughter is getting married and I want to know whether her kids are going to have to go to some other city for their prom too,” Money said.

Other supporters predicted that the project would draw some of the city’s newer east side residents, who might otherwise have no reason to visit Chula Vista’s older west side. Recently, the city and the port both announced that they want to remove the South Bay Power Plant from its current bay-front site, which will allow the agencies more space for planning other possible uses, such as more open space or a new Chargers stadium. In addition, up to 1,300 condos, a ferry terminal and restored wetlands are projected for the 550-acre bay-front area.

“The best thing is that this will tie the east to the west,” said Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, who called Gaylord’s renderings “astounding.”

Others in attendance wanted to know more about whether the facility would include environmental enhancements, such as reflection-reducing windows to prevent bird strikes and renewable energy, and how it would be financed. Gaylord officials said most of those issues are still being studied in the port’s environmental report, which could be finished by June, and could depend on the project’s financing. Currently, the port, the city and Gaylord are negotiating how a subsidy of at least $308 million will be divvied up between the two agencies, and bargaining is expected to wrap up in May.

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

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