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Transformation of North Embarcadero starts to take full shape

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A panoramic view of the new waterfront park adjacent to the County Administration Center on Harbor Drive. A grand opening celebration was held May 10. Photo courtesy County of San Diego

If you haven’t strolled down Harbor Drive along San Diego Bay lately, the area is going through a major transformation: A new waterfront park has just been installed, a hotel and park are under construction and improvements to the boardwalk and streets are close to completion.

The county of San Diego held its grand opening May 10 for its 12-acre Waterfront Park, next to the 4-acre County Administration Center.

The $49.4 million park has two large lawn areas that can accommodate 6,000 people; a family and children's garden with playground equipment, tables, benches, restrooms and small concession area; a 13.5-foot wide promenade and a network of pathways to connect areas within the park and to adjoining streets; and new terraces that wrap around the west side of the County Administration Center.

The park also has more than 200 trees and flowers, including the South American tipuana, coast live oaks, Edith Bogue magnolias, camphor, jacaranda, Chinese flame, sapphire dragon and Torrey pine. A specialty garden has drought-tolerant plants, meandering paths, seating areas and small central plazas.

In addition, the existing fountains on the west and east sides of the County Administration Center were extended, and now seven fountain basins -- each holding approximately 5,000 gallons of water -- are in the park. Public art will be on display throughout the park, including works from Harold Cohen and Allison Renshaw.

The park can be rented out for public and private events such as concerts, festivals, weddings and corporate events.

The effort to bring a park to downtown San Diego’s waterfront dates back more than 20 years, when County Supervisor Ron Roberts was on the San Diego City Council and wanted to bring a public plaza to the foot of Broadway.

“One of my dreams was to beautify this stretch of waterfront,” Roberts said. “The large parking lots flanking the County Administration Center seemed to present the opportunity to do something better. It was a problem looking for a solution, and fortunately I had four colleagues who agreed.”

The Waterfront Park was approved by the county Board of Supervisors in 1998 and got final permitting from the California Coastal Commission in 2003.

Funding comes from a bond, the county’s general fund, a tax-sharing agreement from the city of San Diego and parking revenue.

The park sits on the now former paved parking lots on the north and south side of the County Administration Center. An underground parking garage has been created with 251 spaces and a nine-level parking structure will be completed in 2015 to accommodate county employees.

The County of San Diego Waterfront Park took 19 months to complete.

By the end of June, the second project along downtown’s waterfront should also be complete.

The $28.6 million North Embarcadero Visionary Plan Phase I is designed to increase and enhance the public’s access to San Diego Bay via a wide esplanade and waterfront promenade from the B Street Pier to the former Navy Pier.

As of May 1, remaining construction activities include the installation of landscaping and signature light fixtures on West Broadway, between North Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway. This is expected to be completed by mid-June 2014.

Work on the west side of North Harbor Drive is progressing, with concrete work on the public restrooms just having been completed. Interior walls and roof are getting finishing touches.

Artistic glass hardware is being applied to both the north and south shade pavilions. The next steps include installing of the ceiling panel layout and decorative pavers at the south promenade.

Concrete work on the water quality band structures -- a natural water filtration system that will prevent runoff from entering the San Diego Bay -- has just finished. The next step includes completion of the water quality band drain pipe and soil fill.

Through mid-June, contractors will finish up work on the exterior roadways, walkways, railings, lighting, landscaping and site furnishings. Interpretive signage will also be installed.

Funding for Phase I has been a shared effort between the Port of San Diego and the city of San Diego. The agreement was made in 2007 with the creation of the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan Joint Powers Authority.

On May 8, a groundbreaking was held for the third prominent project along the North Embarcadero at the corner of West Broadway and North Harbor Drive, a property owned by the Port of San Diego and where the Pacific Coast League Padres played games from 1936 to 1957.

The Lane Field North Hotel and Park Project, which has been in talks for the last 15 years, will include a 253-room SpringHill Suites and a 147-room Residence Inn, both in the Marriott International Inc. (Nasdaq: MAR) family of hotels, along with approximately 27,000 square feet of retail space and more than 400 parking spaces.

The $130 million plan also includes a 1.6-acre public park that will stretch north to a property owned by the Navy at 1120 Pacific Highway.

The park is designed to be an urban space that sits across from San Diego Bay and will reflect the history and characteristics of the area.

The park, along with public areas associated with the hotel development, will add about two acres of public open space to the waterfront.

“The Port of San Diego is looking forward to the transformation of the Lane Field property, one of the most historic landmark sites in San Diego, with a high-quality hotel and public park along Harbor Drive,” said Chairman Bob Nelson of the Board of Port Commissioners. “This hotel development helps fulfill our vision for a vibrant waterfront.”

The hotel and park project is expected to open in early 2016.

The developer of the Land Field project is a real estate joint venture of Portman Holdings, Lankford & Associates and Hensel Phelps.

AIG Global Real Estate Investment Corp. will serve as limited partner to the development venture, while U.S. Bank (NYSE: USB) will provide construction debt financing.

John Portman & Associates is providing architectural services, supported locally by Joseph Wong Design Associates.

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