Since my office moved into Liberty Station two-and-a-half years ago, we’ve seen a ton of new neighbors move in to (fortunately) caffeinate and feed us.

But there are still a lot of un-renovated buildings between my office and the Barnett Street entrance to Liberty Station. I’ve been wondering about what’s happening there.

Yesterday I had coffee with the guy who knows. Alan Ziter is charge of the nonprofit foundation that oversees the arts and culture buildings in the former Naval Training Center. I’d mentioned last week Ziter called this batch of buildings a “big blank canvas for San Diego.” The city set aside 26 buildings in Liberty Station (on 28 acres) for arts and culture uses. It’s a coup the arts community still brags about — like to National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman, who visited in May. (Ziter said Landesman said this is one of the best things he’s seen in the country.)

Ziter sees this spot as emblematic. “From Navy base to arts center — this is the San Diego story,” he said.

But just because the city designated the buildings for arts and culture doesn’t mean the place is already a resounding success. Now it’s Ziter’s job to fix the buildings up and fill them with arts organizations. That’s not easy.

Seven buildings are done, nearly full with 42 organizations and artists’ studios. That leaves 19 to go.

Ziter said it’s a tough road to get renovation plans past various historical commissions (because the buildings are historically recognized).

Another challenge: rents that have to be high enough to cover the costs of renovation. This is not a converted warehouse in East Village, Ziter said. And so older, more established organizations and artists are finding a home here.

“This is sort of not the hipster place, though I don’t want to exclude them,” he said. “I know the quilt gallery and watercolor society skews higher than what I’m seeing in the Barrio.”

After coffee, Ziter and I whirled through a few of the galleries and spaces before I walked a block back to my office. Seems there’s enough to write about for months just here in my backyard.

Please contact Kelly Bennett directly at or 619.325.0531 and follow her on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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