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The room wasn’t big enough last night to hold all of the people who came to talk about the proposed waterfront development at the Navy Pier. Officials and designers showed slides of plans for more parking, a sloped park honoring veterans, an amphitheater and a giant sculpture of wings on the waterfront, adjacent to the USS Midway Museum.
It was the first public meeting for a plan that has sparked a ton of debate over what is an iconic representation of San Diego and how the waterfront should look in the future. The people proposing this say it would be our Eiffel Tower or St. Louis arch. Are the 400- and 500-foot sculptures of sails or wings what San Diego wants? If you’re catching up on this discussion, we compiled this week a Reader’s Guide to what you need to know about the plan and the discussion it has sparked.
Here are a few notes from the meeting (I also put some observations on Twitter):
• I had to step out before the two-hour meeting wrapped up, and on my way out I ran into Ron Roberts, county supervisor, watching the meeting from the doorway.
He said he likes the plan to add the park. But of the rest of the plan, the former architect said he has “heartburn over a lot of it.”
He said he dislikes the plan to add a bigger parking structure on the water. And the wings are the wrong thing, the wrong size, in the wrong place, he said. If the symphony did move into the amphitheater planned for the pier, the musicians would be overshadowed — and literally shadowed, he said — by the massive sculpture. “There’s no redeeming value,” he said.
It seemed like “somebody with a lot of dollars” came to the Midway with a plan to build the iconic symbol, he said, referring to the plan that’s been in the works between civic leader Malin Burnham and architect Hal Sadler for decades. But the wings have “no relationship to the fabric of downtown,” he said.
“They keep saying, ‘Here’s what it looks like from Point Loma,’” he said. “But what about what it looks like from downtown?”
He said the argument doesn’t even have to be about whether the wings themselves are a good icon.
“Whether you like the design is almost immaterial,” he said. “The height and the location are just extraordinarily wrong.”
Roberts will share his distaste for the plan with someone else this week: Civic leader and philanthropist Malin Burnham, an integral backer proposing the plan.
“Malin’s coming in to see me later this week. He wanted to see if I’d endorse it,” Roberts said. “I said, ‘I’m on the other side.’”
• Museum CEO Mac McLaughlin explained a bit of the timing for why the Midway dropped this “grand plan” into the community now. He said the museum must present a plan by next fall for what it wants to do with the pier. “We thought maybe if we started early, and worked together with the community, we might be able to not create a crisis,” he said.
• When it came time for public comments, most people seemed to like the plans to knock down the four-story building that currently sits along Broadway and add a park. A few people spoke up in favor of the wings sculpture, like the guy who said he’s been “waiting and praying for something like this.” But most people who spoke reacted negatively to it, a couple calling it a monstrosity.
• Several asked why the museum has to build parking right there, on the waterfront, instead of offsite like the museum promised to do when it first proposed parking the aircraft carrier there. McLaughlin, the museum CEO, contended that the museum hasn’t been able to find affordable land to build close-by parking for its hundreds of thousands of guests every year. One participant asked the museum to compile data from its visitors on how many drive compared to how many walk over from the Convention Center or a downtown hotel — to back up the museum’s wish to build at least 100 more parking spots there.
• Greg Mueller, CEO of the architecture firm designing the proposal, Tucker Sadler Architects, said 1 percent of the entire project cost will be set aside to involve local artists in making work that would “accentuate” the Veterans Park.
A participant suggested the planners instead make a West Coast version of the Statue of Liberty.
• Port officials announced that the formal board meeting to decide on the plan has been moved from Dec. 13 to Jan. 10. The port will hold two more similar meetings to last night’s before then to hear feedback on the plan, next Tues., Dec. 6 at 5:30 p.m. and Saturday morning, Dec. 10 at 9 a.m. at the port building at 3165 Pacific Highway.
I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at email@example.com or 619.325.0531.
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