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Can San Diego have a new bayfront city hall? With the recent decision to take a proposal to redevelop the existing C Street Civic Center off the November 2010 ballot, the city will begin looking at alternative ways to replace the current dilapidated city hall building with a new facility downtown.
There is an alternative, which I believe the city should seriously explore, that would provide for the construction of a new city hall complex on the downtown San Diego waterfront, where city hall was located from 1935 until 1964.
This alternative would require no new taxes on city residents, and would not require the city to increase its debt by issuing new civic center redevelopment bonds. This market-based concept would result in a new waterfront civic center complex that could serve the city for generations, which reflects the city’s true heritage as a bayfront city.
In 1987, then-senator Pete Wilson sponsored federal legislation requiring the U.S. Navy to enter into a development agreement with the city and contract with a private developer if it wanted to replace its regional headquarters complex on the existing Navy Broadway Complex. After 23 years of start-and-stop planning by the Navy and its developers, it has become manifestly obvious to all that this concept no longer works in a post-9/11 world. Any new regional naval headquarters complex should be located on a secure local naval base, not in the middle of a busy downtown commercial district, as has been pointed out by Congresswoman Susan Davis, who represents the downtown area in Congress.
When city voters approved a transfer of the city waterfront site that is now the Broadway Complex facility to the Navy in 1920, it was exclusively for military purposes, not for the Navy to turn into a private real estate development project. If the Navy no longer requires the site for purely military purposes, it should be given back to the city of San Diego.
The city of San Diego could work with Congresswoman Davis and the other members of our congressional delegation to pass new legislation repealing the 1987 bill and directing the Navy to build its new regional headquarters in a more secure existing local naval base. This bill could include $350 million in new federal funds to allow the Navy to build its new headquarters facility at a secure local base, a pittance when compared to the billions of federal stimulus funds currently being provided to the Navy for much lower priority projects. The legislation could also direct the Navy to give the existing Navy Broadway Complex site at the foot of Broadway back to the city of San Diego.
Regaining control of the Navy Broadway Complex site would allow the city to put its existing civic center complex up for sale to developers who would like to build new highrise business and residential towers what is now in the heart of downtown. The revenues from that sale could be used by the city to design and construct a new city hall complex on the northeast corner of the Navy Broadway Site.
This bayfront site could also be used to house a new performing arts center near the south end of the property, on Pacific Highway. When former Mayor Susan Golding proposed that a new performing arts center be built on the Lane Field site during her term in office, local performing arts organizations raised very significant funding from regional arts patron contributions, which had to be returned when the port decided to locate yet another new hotel on that site. This same energy within our local arts community could be harnessed to raise funding for a new waterfront performing arts center.
The remainder of the Navy Broadway Complex site could then be redeveloped as an open, activated public park, linking up to a new linear setback park the port will be considering, that would run along the east side of Harbor Drive, from Hawthorne Street south to Broadway.
While this concept does not depend on new taxes or new bonds, it would require real political will on the part of the mayor, the City Council, Congresswoman Davis and the other members of the city’s congressional delegation, plus the cooperating of the U.S. Navy.
If all parties choose to pull together around common goals, the Navy could get its new regional headquarters building on a secure local base, the city would get a new city hall complex, again located on our downtown bayfront, the local arts community could get a shining new waterfront performing arts center to rival those in Sidney, Australia and Bilbao, Spain, and the public would get an iconic public park on our downtown waterfront that could rival those on any bayfront in the world.
All it would take is the political will and courage to think big, and a real commitment to making San Diego a truly world-class waterfront city.
In addition to his other affiliations, Don Wood is also a member of the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition, an alliance of local civic organizations dedicated to preserving and enhancing public access to downtown San Diego’s waterfront, which is currently involved in ongoing litigation with the port over its alleged failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved the proposal to build the new structure on the Broadway Pier.