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Public/private partnership provides infrastructure upgrades at Liberty Station

GREG BLOCK

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In the late 1990s, the city of San Diego and the United States Navy made waves when they began the process of transitioning the former Naval Training Center (NTC) in Point Loma to civilian use.

As part of that effort, the city selected The Corky McMillin Cos. to bring to fruition their vision of creating a mixed use village at the former naval base.

For such a comprehensive effort it is no surprise that the NTC redevelopment project came with several challenges, including having some of the oldest infrastructure in the city.

In order to transform NTC into what is now known as Liberty Station, The Corky McMillin Cos. worked closely with the city of San Diego to complete several major infrastructure improvements.

Those improvements for the project are now more than 80 percent complete, according to Kim Elliott, vice president of The Corky McMillin Cos. and project manager for Liberty Station. In so doing, McMillin has met its commitments to complete these improvements according to the city's timeline.

In exchange for the rights to redevelop NTC, McMillin is responsible for infrastructure improvements needed to transform the 75-year-old naval base into a full-fledged modern community.

These improvements include sewer, water, electric, cable, phone and storm drain system improvements, new road and traffic improvements to internal and surrounding streets, new parking areas and new landscaping, including a 46-acre public park and a walkable promenade that intersects the entire project.

The 46-acre park, called NTC Park, will be the largest waterfront park created in San Diego since Mission Bay Park. Phase one of NTC Park is expected to open to public use in early 2007.

Work also includes demolition of obsolete structures and hazardous material cleanup. The total cost for all infrastructure improvements is estimated to be more than $130 million upon completion.

"Cities don't have the financial ability to completely redevelop costly base conversions," said Elliott. "But we are in the business of building vibrant communities virtually from the ground up."

That is why this project has worked so well for everybody involved, Elliott explained. The city chose to use a public/private partnership to complete the project. Given the limited resources of the city, these improvements may have taken a lot longer without such a partnership.

"The infrastructure the city inherited from the Navy was in great need of replacement or improvement if Liberty Station was to become the vibrant place the Navy, the community and the city envisioned it to be," Elliott continued. "With the master developer paying for that work, the people of San Diego get an amazing new community with shopping, schools, arts facilities, parks and restaurants."

While the city, Navy and airport still retain ownership of approximately 80 percent of the land at the former Naval Training Center, McMillin was given the right to lease and sell some of the land to offset the cost of the redevelopment of Liberty Station.

The monumental upgrade of the decaying 75-year-old infrastructure underlying the former naval base affects more than the new neighborhoods at Liberty Station. Much of the work also has impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods, which benefit from the upgraded roads, traffic flows and sewer, water and electrical systems necessary to support the demands of a modern, urban community.

Liberty Station includes 125 acres of parks and open space, including an existing boat channel, shopping villages and restaurants, a 28-acre civic, arts and cultural district developed by the NTC Foundation, three hotels, a residential district, a seven-building office district and a 22-acre educational campus anchored by High Tech High.

The nine-hole Sail Ho golf course opened in October 2006 to much fanfare after being closed for two years. McMillin invested over $3 million to make the golf course more attractive and more challenging for players.

The hotel district is currently under construction and hosts a 200-room Courtyard by Marriott, a 150-room Hilton Homewood Suites, the former 33,000-square-foot Bayside Conference Center and an additional 650-room hotel, which is currently being planned.

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