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On the Waterfront

Impending development projects source of concern for waterfront industrial businesses

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For many businesses operating on the waterfront, San Diego is at a major crossroads.

A $1.4 billion development at Ballpark Village, which would include housing, proposed by JMI Realty and Lennar is causing tension among industrial businesses along the waterfront.

Photo: R.E. Staite Engineering Waterfront businesses like R.E. Staite Engineering, which has been on the waterfront since 1938, are concerned that development will push them out. R.E. Staite is known for such projects as the Convair Lagoon remediation.

Photo: R.E. Staite Engineering R.E. Staite Engineering served as the general contractor on the construction of the Naval Training Center Bridge. Water dependent businesses like R.E. Staite, National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO), Southwest Marine and Continental Maritime are concerned that recent development projects could threaten business.

Downtown redevelopment is at its pinnacle, and some waterfront advocates say its success is about to undermine the very industry that enabled it to flourish.

The growing dissatisfaction with downtown developers among industrial businesses involves a clash of ideologies about the best way to use land near the bay: industrial use or residential use.

The tension culminated when developers JMI Realty and Lennar proposed a $1.4 billion development at Ballpark Village.

The area, bound by Park Boulevard, K Street, Imperial and Eleventh avenues, is across the street from Petco Park, the baseball park approved by San Diego voters in November 1998.

The 3.2 million-square-foot development plan at Ballpark Village could include two 500-foot towers, a minimum of 300,000 square feet of offices, 115,000 to 150,000 square feet of retail space and 100,000 square feet of affordable housing, plus market-rate housing units. A hotel may be developed as well.

One issue, however, concerns the residential component.

"If you build those towers, then you're going to get complaints from the people who live there," said Sharon Cloward, the executive director of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, a coalition that works to enhance trade, commerce and tourism on San Diego Bay's tidelands.

The proposed development is adjacent to a railway switching yard, (the Burlington Northern Santa Fe) where railroad cars move in the middle of the night at sound levels of 140 decibels, Cloward said.

Residents' complaints could galvanize a movement to alter or eliminate the railroad, she said.

"And if they do something with those railroad tracks, that impact would be huge to our industry (at the waterfront)," Cloward said.

Many businesses that operate on the "working waterfront" - the industrial area between the 10th Avenue and 24th Street marine terminals -- can't receive necessary goods without the railroad, she added.

Ray Carpenter -- whose business, R.E. Staite Engineering, has been at the waterfront for three generations since 1938 - is also concerned that encroaching developments could ultimately threaten his business and others, such as NASSCO, Southwest Marine and Continental Maritime.

There's nowhere for them to go, he said.

"The businesses are on the waterfront because they are water dependent," he said.

If the working waterfront disappeared, Carpenter said, the San Diego region would feel a multi-billion dollar impact because high-paying jobs would be lost.

The working waterfront provides 10,000 direct jobs and 25,000 related jobs in the San Diego region, according to the Port Tenants Association.

Prices of goods - from fruits and vegetables to concrete and steel - would increase, and the freeways would be jammed with trucks, attempting to bring goods to the region that otherwise would have passed through the port, Carpenter speculated.

"The port of San Diego is the reason San Diego is here," he said.

"With the increased population and the desire for everyone to move into San Diego, we have some short-sighted politicians, bureaucrats and some developers who are only interested in their short-term profits as opposed to long-term regional benefits of a strong economic base and high-paying jobs," Carpenter added.

If the working waterfront is no longer on the waterfront, then who would provide the direct support used by the U.S. Navy, asked Dan Wilkens, the executive vice president of the Unified Port of San Diego, which manages the tidelands on behalf of the state of California.

The Navy contributes to the $18 billion generated annually by the military to San Diego's regional economy.

Peter Hall, president of the Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC) -- the public, non-profit group created by the city of San Diego to implement downtown redevelopment projects - said he has continued direct dialogue with the Port to address concerns.

Charles Black, executive vice president for JMI Reality, also acknowledged the working waterfront's concerns.

"As residential land uses get closer (to industrial land uses), their fear is that the people will become an adverse constituency," he said. But, Black added, their concerns are not justified.

The Port of San Diego is organizing preliminary plans for a symposium to discuss the issues of colocation and gentrification. Its goal will be to exchange opinions, promote understanding among factions, create solutions and determine what mechanisms are needed to implement those solutions, Wilkens said.

"Can residential land uses colocate with industrial land uses? And, if so, how?" he asked.

San Diego's colocation conflict occurred for a variety of reasons, Wilkens said.

"I think it's the unintended consequences of a tremendous success story of the redevelopment ... of Centre City," he said.

Yet, San Diego's dilemma is not unique: Ports across the country are grappling with the same issues.

Wilkens, who is one of many people organizing the symposium's preliminary plans, envisions 300 to 400 people attending the one-day event. It will be held as soon as it can be organized, Wilkens said.

The participants could include representatives from the city of San Diego, CCDC, the Redevelopment Agency, the Navy, waterfront groups, developers, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., San Diego County, the San Diego Association of Governments and neighborhood groups, which currently have their own concerns about gentrification.

Other guests on the list could include: economists, home builders, land-use planners, transportation consultants, economic development officials, academics, community groups, organized labor, commercial developers, environmental groups and industrial business organizations and other nationally renowned groups, such as the Urban Land Institute, Port Authorities and the American Planning Association.

The format for the symposium could allow each group to present an opening statement, then a neutral moderator would probe the representatives with questions.

The discussion would be televised or recorded and distributed so the public and decision-makers could have access to the debate.

The event won't happen, however, without funding. Putting on the symposium will take a dollar amount in the "high five figures," Wilkens estimated.

Several groups have expressed interest in participating but have not committed to sponsoring the event - except for JMI Realty and Lennar.

"They have indicated a willingness to be a financial partner in this endeavor because they believe it's a serious public policy question," Wilkens said.

Black said JMI Realty would be willing to discuss the issues at a symposium "if the right players are there." He specifically named the city of San Diego, the Redevelopment Agency, CCDC and neighborhood community groups, such as Barrio Logan.

The future of downtown is, ultimately, in other hands, he said.

"We think whatever happens is a decision of the people of San Diego," Black said.

Hall said he was not aware of a planned symposium, nor had he been invited.

The Ballpark Village proposal will go before the Redevelopment Agency for approval in September, Black said. If the agency approves the development, it may break ground in late 2006.


Horton is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

SIDEBAR

Working Waterfront

Source: San Diego Bay's Working Waterfront Group

Economic impact of working waterfront

* $3 billion in production

* Businesses add diversity and needed balance

* Support presence of the military and defense industry

* $10.1 billion to the San Diego County economy

* Provide family-supporting salaries and benefits

* Life-long careers

* 35,000 employees

Environmental commitments

* Zero discharges

* Bay water quality improving under our leadership

* Operation Clean Sweep

Community commitments

* Strong commitment to local neighborhood

* Job training and recruitment

* Support education, social services

National security

* Services for military and defense

* Research and development

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