A recent news release about the Unified Port District of San Diego’s management of its leases was disturbing.
Anthony’s Fish Grotto, a pioneer on the waterfront for more than 50 years, is encountering difficulties in renewing its lease for the prime location near the Maritime Museum of San Diego and Broadway Pier.
Before the port authorities abandon efforts with the Ghio family, they should recall what happened to Old Town 10 years ago. The very popular Bazaar Del Mundo complex, which put the Old Town state monument into business with profitable lease revenues pouring into state coffers for 35 years, was abandoned in favor of a better bid.
As thousands of tourists and many San Diegans found to their dismay, the new lessee destroyed the ambiance of a colorful complex of shops and restaurants.
The big-time, out-of-state food-service chain pitched for a different concept that failed miserably. Local ownership was outbid with grandiose promises of better revenue and a different theme concept that Sacramento bureaucrats thought best for San Diego.
Of course, the new lessee catered food stands at airports, which should have been a warning of what was to come.
Within a few years, the new company abandoned its lease after depriving the state of millions of dollars in lease rentals due to the decreased attendance.
Old Town has never been the same. This should alert the Port District that established and successful local entrepreneurs know San Diego.
If the Port District neglects to renew Anthony’s harbor side lease, no doubt some out-of-town chain will grab the site and possibly take away a San Diego tradition that has attracted tourists and residents for generations.
Managing the state-mandated tidelands is a challenging responsibility. San Diego is fortunate to have a unique natural harbor attracting tourists and providing a big economy in maritime services and conventions. The trick is to balance tourism with industry.
For many years I have been an advocate to support maritime services in the Port of San Diego. The latest expansion of the San Diego Convention Center required additional high-rise hotels and other support facilities that encroach on valuable waterfront land that is needed for boatyards and shipping activity.
Even worse was the proposal that a new football stadium be built over the 10th Avenue terminal, again encroaching on the waterfront for an activity that has nothing to do with water. Other issues concern the gentrification in the barrio area that creates conflicts between new residents being disturbed by the maritime service industry which, by its nature, creates noise.
My previous commentaries concerning use of the two marine terminals at 10th Avenue and 32nd Street for import and export of materials have vaguely referred to the number of jobs and economic benefits that maritime services provide.
A new report provided some important numbers concerning the value of activities for maritime purposes.
San Diego’s maritime industry provides 46,000 jobs and an economic engine of $14 billion of direct spending. Apply a multiple factor for circulation in the community to get a significant source of business and growth.
So what is the maritime industry? Bill Riedy, executive director of The Maritime Alliance, puts it this way. It is jobs related to the Port of San Diego administration, boat building, supplying the Navy fleet operations, fishing, shipping of materials in and out and the big employer, General Dynamics NASSCO, a major shipbuilder and boat repair yard.
The recent study discussed at a meeting of the report sponsors, including The Maritime Alliance, predicts an increase of maritime business of 12 percent and 6,000 new jobs by 2020.
The faster-growing tenant is Pasha Automotive Services, which already ships in 400,000 vehicles a year at the National City Terminal. The 10th Avenue terminal may carry the new overload as Ford ships to Japan, requiring demolition of underused warehouses to clear dock space.
Most important to remember is what water is for. According to Todd Roberts, president of Marine Group Boat Works, it is for the maritime and water-dependent uses. Tourists can also enjoy looking at it in the harbor.
The San Diego Port District was created by the Coastal Act that states that water-dependent uses shall have the highest priority on dedicated port land. That’s where the balance between maritime services and tourism comes into conflict.
Developers and the tourist industry look at the waterfront as a gem for new facilities. The jobs they create for low-wage workers create a vibrant tourist industry to benefit the community.
Can the Port District strike a suitable balance for both industries?
In the meantime, the leasing agents should keep in mind that a hometown, well-established business such as Anthony’s Fish Grotto should be given some priority.
Too many hospitality organizations serving the tourist industry suck money away from the local economy and don’t necessarily provide the best benefit for San Diego.