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Gaylord Entertainment Company today notified Chula Vista officials that it would be scrapping its plans to build a convention center complex on the city’s bay front.

The announcement appears, once and for all, to mark the death of a project that civic leaders hoped would energize the neglected waterfront of a city that is currently enduring the sharp pains of the economic downturn and a strong political struggle.

Bennett Westbrook: I’m taking my convention center and going home.

Bennett Westbrook, the company’s senior vice president for development, wrote in a letter to city and port officials that the company was unable to fund the “enormous infrastructure costs associated with the bayfront redevelopment in a manner that will generate adequate financial returns for Gaylord, the Port, and the City.”

He continues:

From the outset, we knew that overcoming this obstacle was a tall order. As we have jointly dedicated significant internal and external resources to analyze all possible alternatives, we have concluded that there is no workable solution despite our collective best efforts. This conclusion is amplified all the more by the current tumultuous economic environment.

Gaylord entered into formal negotiations with Chula Vista and port officials in 2006 to build up to 2,000 hotel rooms and 400,000 square feet of convention space. It was envisioned to be the centerpiece of the redevelopment of 550 acres of largely port-owned industrial and marsh land that stretches from the Sweetwater Marsh Wildlife Refuge to just south of the South Bay Power Plant.

The proposal, sketched out in a July 2006 letter of intent, called for a $1 billion project, which would include a $308 million public subsidy paid through bonds and revenue generated by the development.

Gaylord recently began planning a complex in Mesa, Ariz., drawing questions about how dedicated it was to the Chula Vista project.

“This is a very difficult time for us as this was a sensational project for Chula Vista and the South Bay,” said Steve Cushman, port commissioner. He said they will move ahead with Plan B, which would be a smaller hotel and convention center.

Chula Vista has also been engaged in discussions with the Chargers about building a new football stadium on the bay-front site of the existing South Bay Power Plant. City officials had made it clear that Gaylord was their top priority.

The Gaylord project had been inching ahead quietly behind-the-scenes after publicly withdrawing its plans in mid-2007 amid disagreements with organized labor.

ANDREW DONOHUE

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