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Detractors concerned with Ballpark Village Marriott size, density

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The proposed 1,959-room, $1 billion Marriott Hotel in the Ballpark Village master plan has come under fire because of its size, and the exact mix in the rest of the East Village property has yet to be determined.

If built as proposed, the Marriott would have about 20 more rooms than a convention-oriented Hilton hotel in San Francisco -- making it the largest on the West Coast -- but if comments leveled at the project thus far this year are any indication, the project could face an uphill fight.

The proposed hotel would have two 500-foot-tall main hotel towers with three vertically stacked ballrooms -- the first floor of which would be sunk 20 feet below grade -- in a 110-foot-high podium with a pool between the towers. The hotel, along with its three restaurants, would also have at least 200,000 square feet of meeting space that might be augmented at a later date.

The development, which once had a residential component, would have four levels of subterranean parking totaling 1,478 spaces, perhaps more. Johnson Fain Architects is designing the project. The firm is also handling the redesign of Dodger Stadium -- a project slated for completion in 2012.

The proposed 1,959-room Marriot Hotel in the Ballpark Village would have two 500-foot-tall main hotel towers with three vertically stacked ballrooms.

Marriott said view corridors for the Ballpark Village project would be maintained from the reading room of the proposed new downtown library, and along southbound 10th Avenue by orienting the towers to provide a 285-foot clear width.

If built as planned, the hotel could generate as much as $15 million a year in transient occupancy tax receipts, along with substantial property and sales tax revenues. The Marriott project is also projected to generate 1,500 to 1,600 permanent jobs.

Gwynne Pugh, a Los Angeles architect and urban design consultant to the Centre City Development Corp., said that while he likes the TOT and job numbers, the hotel is too massive for the site.

"The podium goes up 150 feet," Pugh said, adding that this is before the hotel towers even start. "The Tenth Avenue view corridor is blocked by this podium."

Though Pugh said the hotel has the potential to be a marvelous complement to the Convention Center, he worries the hotel and in fact the whole development may be too dense.

"I don't blame Johnson Fain. They have done the best they could with the plan. It ended up as nice as it could be, given Marriott's requirements," Pugh said. "Marriott fought tooth and nail for this program (density)."

Johnson Fain officials couldn't be reached for comment for this story.

Pugh, who doubts the design will change much, said he hopes "the aesthetics of the project don't get value engineered out."

David Hall, a JMI Realty senior project manager, said the hotel's density conforms to the existing master plan for that portion of the East Village. Some modifications to the design are being made, but he declined to elaborate until they are complete.

Linville Martin, a member of both the East Village Association and the Downtown San Diego Partnership, said the amount of TOT money involved will ensure the project gets built, but worries the design could be turning its back on downtown.

"Why do you open up a project to the bay? I don't see why you want to point your good side to the water," Martin said. "And when you think of it, it's not that great an area. It's not really a dominant part of downtown."

Both developer JMI and Marriott say the project can be built without a public subsidy, with Marriott paying for much of the expense. Conventional financing could be used for the rest of the Ballpark Village plan, but the exact mix has yet to be determined.

Martin also is concerned about what will happen to the rest of the Ballpark Village plan, which is in a state of flux.

When originally conceived, thousands of residential units had been proposed -- many with retail planned on the ground floor. Now, with the collapse of the residential real estate market, the plan has had to be reconsidered. Martin, who works in nearby DiamondView Tower, doesn't think a residential component makes sense on the Ballpark Village site.

"I just don't see residential working there," Martin said.

He does think retail is possible, but Martin would really like to see an office component with a segment set aside for higher education.

"That would provide a tremendous opportunity. You would get people walking around during the day instead of just at night, and it's right next to public transportation," he said.

A design review hearing and implementation agreement on the hotel portion of the plan has been scheduled for 8 a.m. on Sept. 10 in the CCDC boardroom. Exactly when the rest of the project will be considered, and what the plan will look like, remains uncertain.

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