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Liberty Station in ship-shape order

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The 361-acre Liberty Station mixed-use project being developed by The Corky McMillin Cos. in collaboration with city's redevelopment agency is in ship-shape order with residential, commercial and community facilities moving full-speed ahead.

A rendering of the planned retail section at Liberty Station.

The Corky McMillin Cos. moved its corporate headquarters to the new Liberty Station mixed-use community earlier this year. The organization occupies 63,000 square feet of office space in Building 903, built by McMillin Commercial.

Homes, parks, schools, office buildings and a cultural arts center are all part of the massive development on the former Naval Training Center in the city's venerable Point Loma neighborhood.

According to Hank Cunningham, assistant executive director of the city of San Diego Redevelopment Agency, more than a decade has been spent to transform the property into a resource all San Diegans can use, while maintaining the city's maritime history.

"We're getting closer to the full vision of NTC that ultimately will serve as a destination for residents and visitors alike," Cunningham said.

With more than 65 percent of the work now complete at Liberty Station, much has changed at the old boot camp, which closed in 1997. Gone are most of the barracks that for 75 years housed thousands of sailors who received basic training and initial marching orders for service in the U.S. Navy.

The waterfront community near downtown San Diego is now home to more than 250 families, with all 349 homes being built on this historic property in three separate neighborhoods now sold out.

"Children playing on the promenade, parents mingling outside and neighbors walking their dogs all bring a tremendous amount of satisfaction to those of us who have devoted so many years to this project," said Walter Heiberg, McMillin senior vice president and project manager for Liberty Station.

He said the residential district's overwhelming success can be attributed to the mixture of historical architectural components with the modern living needs of today's homeowners.

Keeping with the rich heritage and historic theme of the Point Loma area, many of the attached and detached homes in the now bustling residential district reflect an eclectic array of Spanish, Mediterranean and Italian designs. The homes, ranging in size from 1,086 square feet to 3,162 square feet and priced from the $400,000 to upwards of $1.3 million, are only one segment of the ambitious project that began planning in the early 1990s and started construction in early 2001.

The San Diego City Council recently gave the green light to approve bonds that will finance a 46-acre public park, the largest waterfront park in San Diego since Mission Beach Park was launched in 1982.

The $14.7 million NTC Park will be built in two phases over three years and include two ball fields, two large picnic areas, four half-court basketball courts, a sports plaza, two playgrounds, a multipurpose field, an esplanade for bicycling and walking, and restroom facilities.

According to Heiberg, the NTC Park is an integral piece in the overall Urban Design Program adopted by the city to help guide the redevelopment of the former naval base.

"It emphasizes pedestrian use of the community, enhances orientation to San Diego Bay and pays respect to the military heritage of the site," he said.

Other elements of the Liberty Station project also are moving forward. McMillin just finished another segment of the 1.5 mile-long waterfront esplanade. This landscaped pedestrian, bicycle and recreational trail allows for continuous public access along the edge of the existing boat channel and linking directly to nearby Spanish Landing linear park.

In the office district, McMillin has completed an office building that is fully leased. Construction also is under way on two more office buildings, with an additional four in the plan. There will be a total of 380,000 square feet of office space in seven buildings, with the goal of creating new jobs to replace those lost with the closing of the Naval Training Center, Heiberg said.

A permit for construction of 350 rooms in a resort hotel complex has been approved by the San Diego Council. Now waiting for Coastal Commission approval, the complex will have a 200-room Marriott Residence Inn extended-stay hotel and a 150-room Hilton Garden Inn.

The historic district, which includes 60 buildings that Heiberg said are being restored to their "original splendor," will provide to locals and tourists a marketplace with such services as restaurants, retail shops and entertainment venues.

High Tech High and High Tech Middle schools, charter schools emphasizing math, science and computer training, are strong anchors in the education district that continues to grow. This fall, Explorer Elementary School, a La Jolla charter school, will open its doors on the burgeoning campus.

Turning 28 acres at Liberty Station into a cultural hub also is moving forward with 18 community organizations on board as founding residents of the NTC Promenade that will include exhibition areas, museum space, performance and theatre space, a culinary institute and restaurant, and art galleries among other things.

From dance and music to visual art and creative arts advocacy, it is estimated that as many as 60 organizations will operate at the NTC Promenade by 2010.

Esterbrooks is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

Liberty Station

Developer: The Corky McMillin Companies in collaboration with the City of San Diego Redevelopment Agency

Architects: Bob Bollis McKinley Heritage Architecture & Planning

Contractors: BICOR Harper Construction

Major Subs: Rick Engineering

Financing: Indymac Bank

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