COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JOHN PATRICK FORD

Liberty Station ready for more growth

After 11 years developing the historic Naval Training Center in Point Loma, the NTC Foundation has successfully completed its first phase. Now that 16 of the restored buildings in the complex are fully leased, it is time to rehab the remaining 10 buildings to meet the demand for space.

Anyone who has visited Liberty Station to share the cultural events, dine at fine restaurants, shop at Trader Joe’s or attend the popular Rock Church can see that this grand complex in the heart of the city has a dynamic future. When the U.S. Navy closed the large training center where naval recruits were trained for 74 years, the city granted 28 acres of the historic district for redevelopment as an arts center.

The NTC Foundation declared this would be the best place to establish an arts center for the city. Since then, 28 not-for-profit arts organizations and 53 other small business groups have become tenants at affordable rates.

Most of these organizations were pushed out of Gaslamp and Little Italy by the demand for restaurant space and higher rents. There is also the advantage that the dance groups, artist studios and theater troupes can collaborate for their mutual benefit.

That was the mission of the NTC Foundation, Executive Director Alan Ziter said in an interview at Liberty Station. Ziter shared his enthusiasm for the future growth of the complex as the foundation completes the remaining 10 buildings.

“We are probably the only landlord in San Diego today that it is 100 percent occupied with a waiting list for new space,” Ziter said. Renovating the remaining property will be difficult without the previous redevelopment funds available from the city of San Diego. It will take private philanthropy and equity investors to provide the estimated $25 million to finish the job.

With 16 buildings fully occupied, the project is about 75 percent self-supporting. Ziter predicts that the remaining completion of 10 buildings will be sufficient to support the operation of the historic district from 100 percent lease operations.

A major project is underway to convert the Luce Auditorium into a multiplex cinema with a popular brand of a new dining area. This was an historic building where the naval recruits were entertained by prominent Hollywood stars during the wartime years. Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Kay Kyser and the big bands broadcast from there.

The theater project, called LOT/Liberty Station is patterned after similar multiplex complexes that offer independent films and attract film festivals. It will bring new crowds to Liberty Station for evening entertainment and dining when it opens for the holiday season.

Also getting ready for the holiday season, Liberty Station will build an outdoor ice-skating rink on the large plaza in front of the Command Center. The construction will provide underground refrigeration pipes to ensure a smooth and hard surface for the skaters.

Another new project at Liberty Station being developed by the commercial enterprise is the Liberty Public Market, a European-style marketplace where food vendors will display their products in a food hall. Tenants already signed up for the October opening include a butcher, creamery, cheese shop and coffee roaster.

Popularity of this kind of food shopping has been proven for many years at Pike Place in Seattle and Grand Central Market in Los Angeles. The challenge will be to make Liberty Public Market a seven-day-a-week shopping place, not just a weekend farmers market.

Ziter has been at the helm of the NTC Foundation since 2004 after serving 18 years as the director of the San Diego Performing Arts League, which also serves arts groups. When asked what he would say about his success developing Liberty Station, he simply replied, “The job is not done.”


Ford is a freelance writer in San Diego. He can be reached at johnpatrick.ford@sddt.com.

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Rosemary C. Barnes 12:00am August 25, 2015

What an interesting and informative article. I live in Point Loma and learned much about this area, both historical and current, from reading Mr Ford's article. Thank you.