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These days, Fred Maas often feels like he’s a full-time public servant. In July 2008, Maas was thrust into day-to-day operations of downtown redevelopment agency Centre City Development Corp. following the resignation of President Nancy Graham amid conflict of interest concerns. Maas, the board chairman and CEO, has guided the agency as a volunteer ever since.
In November, Maas shed his private sector day job running the Black Mountain Ranch development company. (Maas retained a financial interest in the company). He’s still working on private projects, but has his hands full with CCDC. The agency is or could be involved in all four of the major building projects proposed in the city: the Convention Center expansion, the proposed Chargers stadium, a downtown main library and a new City Hall.
We talked with Maas about CCDC’s reputation, the stadium and a push to increase the amount of money the agency can raise, which state law now limits.
Make a case for why the amount of money that CCDC can raise needs to be increased.
I think it’s a fairly transparent and easy case to make. In 1992, well-intentioned people designed a plan for downtown and believed they would set aside the dollars that would be required to complete the vision and the mission that was intended. Fast forward 17 years and we’ve come to the realization that those assumptions were no longer valid. The resources aren’t there.
Why is that a better option than allowing CCDC to expire and allowing say 20 percent of the tax dollars go back to the day-to-day budget? (Money in the day-to-day budget could be used to help pay the city’s debts).
The circumstances [the City Council is] confronted with is: How do you deal with the growth in downtown and how do you deal with the needs that will be anticipated downtown when there will be competition with other communities for those same general fund dollars? It’s our anticipation and hope that we can capture the dollars here to complete the mission and the vision of our forefathers.
That does show that the decision related to the cap affects the day-to-day budget.
Yes and no. If we cease to exist, dollars that would otherwise remain downtown would flow to the general fund of the city of San Diego. But by the same token, all of the obligations incumbent on fulfilling the needs of downtown would also come from that general fund. So I can’t tell you today whether it’d be a net gain or a net loss. My instincts tell me it’ll be a net loss.
How tied is the football stadium to raising the cap?
As you know, the whole notion of the cap started long before there was any discussion about a football stadium. I’m not going to try to make the case that there’s no relationship between our actions and our hiring a stadium consultant, the things we’ve done and raising the cap. There’s no question that the confluence of those things made the conversation possible. But I firmly believe that the discussions about the cap are important to fulfill the needs of the community plan, irrespective of the stadium.
The academic research is at best mixed on a stadium’s ability to spur redevelopment. Though Petco Park is often raised as an example of a successful redevelopment project, there are always questions about how much development down there would have happened anyway. This week you mentioned that something needed to happen at the MTS bus terminal site downtown regardless of whether a stadium is put there. Given that, why is a stadium the best thing to do?
I don’t think I make the statement that the stadium is the best thing, but it’s going to take something of significance. Both in terms of the public’s embracing of something there, as well as something that is a potential revenue generator to justify the costs of remediating that site. I’ve seen some of the academic stuff and I’ve read some of the things that this guy from Stanford has written and there are academic cases that can be made for anything. But I will say this, unlike anywhere else, any of your readers or any observers just need to drive down to Petco Park and drive the neighborhoods of the East Village and see what happened there. We could have academic debates about whether all the development which exploded around Petco Park would have happened if we put a dog park there, but I frankly don’t buy it.
I also think you also have to look at the unique environment we’re dealing with here. There have not been a lot of examples about true urban sports environments that have been created. I think a very good example is what’s happened around the Staples Center in L.A. where you’ve had explosive growth in a desolate, blighted area of downtown Los Angeles. I don’t think anyone has talked about a stadium which would just house a football team 10 days a year. Ringing the three or four sides of the stadium with pedestrian uses and pedestrian experiences that would be there year-round. Creating some nexus between Petco and the new stadium. Making it amenable and designing it for multi uses which could be any one of a number of things.
On KPBS this week, Councilman Kevin Faulconer and Vlad Kogan, a doctoral student at UCSD (and former voiceofsandiego.org staffer) were on talking about downtown. Vlad said CCDC has been pretty successful at creating wealth and improving property value downtown, but not quite as successful in economic development and some social service issues. What’s your response to that?
I don’t have much time for folks who are so-called academics who have never toiled in the vineyards and have never really contributed anything to downtown who take positions on things they know nothing about. Clearly if anyone had done any kind of research they would have seen the number of affordable housing units we’ve provided, the leadership we’ve taken on the homeless issue — committing $10 million for a permanent homeless shelter. The social service work that we’ve done on a collaborative basis. To make a bald statement like that I think is a sad commentary on someone’s academic training.
Why do you think that CCDC is so well-liked by developers in the city?
I hear that all the time. But, I’ve gotta tell you, sometimes I feel like my biggest critics and the people who give me the most angst are other developers in town. I don’t think that we’ve gotten any special consideration from the development community. I think some of them appreciate the professional way we’ve conducted business here and the way we streamline processes and things, but when outcomes are yielded that are not what people want, people criticize us from both the business community as well as the nonprofit and other sectors.
–Interview conducted and edited by LIAM DILLON