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Despite slow economy, construction continues in Central San Diego

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The economy may be slow, but construction in the central part of the county continues at full tilt.

With the economy in the tank, developers might not be thinking about new big master plans anymore, but many projects in the central part of the county are destined to keep builders busy for years to come.

While high-rise condominiums sprung up like weeds up until about a year ago, the 300,000-square-foot DiamondView Tower and the 370,000-square-foot Broadway 655 (Advanced Equities Plaza) have been the only new high-rise office projects in downtown San Diego since 1991.

Now it's time for at least one more big office project.

The planned 685,000-square-foot development by The Irvine Co. in the 700 block of West Broadway is expected to take about 2 1/2 years to construct once it gets started. Famed architect Henry Cobb of the New York City firm Pei Cobb Freed & Associates is designing the travertine and glass building.

The Irvine Co. is already well acquainted with downtown San Diego, having purchased such trophy properties as One America Plaza, the Wells Fargo Plaza and Symphony Towers, among others.

At Seventh Avenue and Market Street, Carrier Johnson Architects is in the process of designing a proposed $300 million, mixed-use development to be developed by New York-based Related Cos. and San Diego-based CityLink Investment Corp.

The 42-story building with 660,000 square feet would feature a 220-room hotel, an African-American cultural arts center, restaurants, retail, apartments and for-sale condos.

Although this project, which will be closely monitored by the Centre City Development Corp., continues to move through processing, its exact timetable is still being determined.

Plans call for upgrading and/or expanding Westfield's malls throughout San Diego County. Horton Plaza could see a 300,000-square-foot expansion and major facelift, but the timing depends on the economy. An office tower also has been proposed where Planet Hollywood once held court, but The Irvine Co.'s building will be up long before that development gets out of the ground, if it ever does.

In Mission Valley, where the San Diego Chargers continue to ponder whether the Qualcomm property could ever be redeveloped for their use, Westfield could add as much as 500,000 square feet of new mall space at its Mission Valley Center. A large residential component also is being considered, but the scope will also depend on market forces.

Other plans continue to be discussed in Mission Valley, despite a limited amount of land.

The market seems to have one foot in the future -- with high-technology firms such as SAIC (NYSE: SAI) -- and another in the past, as evidenced by buildings dating back to the 1970s or earlier.

Another big potential project would be the redevelopment of the RiverWalk golf course, which is bisected by the San Diego River.

As in 1987, this could also prove to be the wrong time.

Two decades ago, the Levi-Cushman Family, working in conjunction with Chevron Oil Co. subsidiary Chevron Land & Development, earned City Council approval to take what was then known as the Stardust Country Club and build more than 1,300 homes, 2.6 million square feet of office space, 200,000 square feet of retail and multiple hotels with a total of about 1,000 rooms. The economy went south and the project was never built. While the city could extend the development agreement, that isn't expected to happen.

Many of the now-developed Mission Valley sites were formerly rock quarries used by such long-time rock producers as H.G. Fenton, Superior Ready Mix and Vulcan Materials. Just a few large active properties remain. One of these is destined to become the Quarry Falls development. The other is owned by Superior Ready Mix.

Located on a 230-acre sand and gravel quarry west of Interstate 805 and north of Friars Road, the Quarry Falls project is being planned by San Diego-based Sudberry Properties. The project is expected to be constructed over a 15- to 20-year period.

At build out, Quarry Falls calls for 1.2 million square feet of office and retail space, nearly 4,800 homes, a High Tech High school and about 35 acres of parks and open space.

The 375-acre Superior Ready Mix rock quarry property is located along Mission Gorge Road between Old Cliffs Road and Mission Trails Regional Park. This project ultimately calls for 4,510 homes, of which more than 400 will be affordable units.

The site -- used to mine rock, asphalt, concrete and other building materials -- is anything but pretty today. Not only has the land been deeply scarred by 70 years of mining, but also it is littered with rusting automobiles, derelict boats and small businesses centered around heavy industrial uses.

Specifically, plans call for 2,156 multifamily units with about 70,000 square feet for a neighborhood shopping center, about 1 million square feet of technology park space on the northern and southern portions of the property and parks along the river banks. More than half of the property will be in passive and active open space, including a trail system that will link to Mission Trails Regional Park.

To the east in Grantville, a battle continues to rage over just how that area will be redeveloped.

Just above the valley, San Diego State University continues to tinker with its master plan, which will not only affect the campus, but all properties around the school.

Under the latest proposal, which replaces the long-standing Paseo plan, housing for an additional 1,400 students would be coupled with major retail and restaurant space, along with sorely needed additional parking in an urban village setting.

While plans are subject to change, the university reports this work could get underway in 2011.

In Kearny Mesa, Sudberry Properties' Terraces @ Copley Point (530,000 square feet in two six-story buildings) is being readied for a fall opening. The project is located near the junction of Interstate 805 and Highway 52.

Plans are moving ahead in Kearny Mesa for the projected $395 million County Operations Center and annex development. The projected $308.3 million first phase of the project is to be funded with $233.3 million in lease revenue bond monies and $75 million in general purpose revenue funds. The project is expected to get under way in October.

The COC and annex will include:

¥ Redevelopment of the existing County Operations Center;

¥ Approximately 900,000 square feet of new office space;

¥ Demolition of all existing buildings except Fleet Services, Sheriff's Data Services, and Emergency Command Center;

¥ Six four-story, 150,000-square-foot office buildings;

¥ One 20,000-square-foot conference center and cafeteria;

¥ Two multilevel parking structures and surface parking to service the entire campus;

¥ One central plant serving all the new buildings; and

¥ One 84,000-square-foot Medical Examiner and Forensic Center building.

Not far away in the San Diego Spectrum master plan, leasing efforts were in full tilt at Sunroad Centrum, the 275,000-square-foot office tower that lost its top after both the city and the Federal Aviation Administration said the project would interfere with Montgomery Field.

The 300,000-square-foot La Jolla Commons office tower had a similar problem, in a perceived conflict with the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station flight path. After numerous meetings, it was decided the building wouldn't be a problem after all.

International law firm Paul Hastings is taking 2 1/2 floors in the new project.

The University Towne Center area will also see a big addition to its namesake with the planned 750,000-square-foot expansion of the 1.06 million-square-foot mall. That project, which will also includes 250 multifamily residential units, will be covered with solar panels to power the center.

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified project could get underway in earnest next year, with completion slated for 2012.

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