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$200M N. Embarcadero plan battles opposition

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The greater North Embarcadero area is a puzzle with many pieces, and just how these will fit together, exactly what will be included, and when, remain uncertain.

Any time there is major development planned along San Diego's bayfront, there is going to be controversy, and the proposed $200 million North Embarcadero Visionary Plan is no exception.

The plan extends along Harbor Drive and portions of Pacific Highway between Market Street and Laurel Street and from the railroad right of way to what is known as the San Diego Bulkhead Line at the bayfront.

Within the past few weeks, the California Coastal Commission agreed to allow an appeal challenging the project at least partially on the basis that an approximately 80,000-square-foot park should have been in the plan. The Port of San Diego has countered that the drawing of the park, which now appears as a hardscape plaza at the foot of Broadway next to a new 52,000-square-foot cruise ship terminal, seemed to work in concept. The port now says due to access and other problems, the element is unworkable.

A group known as Public Rights to Bay Access and Parks filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in recent weeks challenging the plan over the lack of the park and numerous other issues.

While the park issue has garnered a lot of press, it is but a small portion of a comprehensive plan destined to both transform the waterfront and Harbor Drive, which will be realigned with the goal of making more walkable spaces.

Some of the features of the plan include a 1.2-mile long, 105-foot-wide esplanade that will feature trails for walking and jogging, the revitalization of the Broadway Pier that is already under way, a new pier and a piazza at Grape Street and North Harbor Drive, improved wharf areas, new dining terraces, new retailers and the addition of hundreds of trees.

The original intent was to have the North Embarcadero plan bankrolled, at least in large part, by the two large hotels being planned on Lane Field, but with hotel financing years away, the port has had to amend that idea -- at least for the time being. The port and the Centre City Development Corp. budgeted $28.5 million for the initial phase.

CCDC has agreed to provide the port with $8.5 million in temporary financing to get the first phase rolling.

Phase 1A will reconstruct West Broadway between Harbor Drive and the railroad right of way. That work is expected to get under way just before the end of the year and be finished roughly a year later.

Phase 1B, which will add turn lanes and other improvements along Harbor Drive, encompasses an area between the Navy Pier and the B Street Pier.

Next spring the port is expected to begin work on the realignment of Harbor Drive itself and extensive landscaping. This is a more complicated affair expected to take about 18 months to complete. Another eight phases are planned along the route over the next few years.

The Broadway Complex property, while not technically within the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, is nevertheless in the middle of its sphere of influence. Developer Douglas Manchester's Pacific Gateway project on the Navy site calls for a couple of major hotels and office space for both the Navy and for private enterprise.

The Manchester plan, as noted by developer Perry Dealy, a project consultant, calls for two hotels with about 900 and 200 rooms respectively, a 372,000-square-foot office tower for the Navy that is required to be first up, and 220,000 of speculative office space. Another 600,000 square feet of speculative office space and a major retail component could be constructed in a later phase, but that could be a long time off.

When asked if there would be a problem building even 220,000 square feet of speculative office space, Dealy said while such a project wouldn't make sense in the current economy, it will be needed in the not too distant future.

"When the market does recover we will be able to hit the ground running," Dealy said.

The Manchester Pacific Gateway project has had its own battles. One centers on whether or not the development is subject to California Coastal Commission approval. Dealy said since the Broadway Complex property is federally owned, the state shouldn't have the last word. In any case the matter has yet to be resolved.

Then there is a group known as The Navy Broadway Complex Coalition that challenged the project's environmental impact report in Superior Court earlier this year. While the group has agreed to drop the lawsuit contending the environmental review was done in secret, it expressed the possibility it might file another action challenging the merits of the EIR itself. The citizens group has been most vocal about the possible seismic impacts due to a fault and claims the Navy's office tower could be an attractive target for a terrorist attack.

The other major project in this area is the Lane Field development on two parcels where the Padres of the old Pacific Coast League once played. That project has its needed Port District and California Coastal Commission approvals.

Anchored by two hotels, the Lane Field plan, like that of the Manchester Pacific Gateway, has had to be placed on the back burner if for no other reason that hotels across the country are universally not receiving the financing they need.

The Lane Field team is comprised of Hardage Suite Hotels, which may be best known here for its Woodfin Suites brand; C.W. Clark Inc., the developer of the retail for Liberty Station and other retail and hotel projects; and Lankford & Associates, the developer of the Hall of Justice and Advanced Equities Plaza at 655 West Broadway.

Plans at Lane Field call for 525-room hotel that has been billed as a Hotel Inter-Continental. This property would have about 50,000 square feet of retail, restaurants, ballrooms and meeting rooms in an energy efficient package that would be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.

A 250-room hotel operated by Woodfin Suites will include 30,000 square feet of retail space and restaurants, ballrooms and meeting rooms is being planned the north side of Lane Field.

The Port District has extended the Lane Field development permit until January 2012 before which time Hardage and company hope the financial markets have improved.

If the Lane Field project ever does get going it is projected to create 2,000 permanent hotel jobs, 500 temporary construction jobs with annual TOT revenues projected to reach $7.5 million by 2015.

A bit further south is another project that has taken longer than expected due to the economy, but in the case of the Old Police Headquarters, the demolition work that will facilitate the project is under way. That development in turn is planned as a catalyst for a planned major renovation and expansion of Seaport Village.

"We are talking with prospective tenants," said Bruce Walton, Terramar Retail Centers executive vice president. "We remain bullish on the project and the waterfront."

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1 UserComments
Jill Nyahay 1:31am February 18, 2010

This is unnecessary - waste of money and environment. I live within blocks of the Embarcadero and I love it the way it is, simple benches, nature and the beautiful bay. San Diego is plenty beautiful for tourists, what about the people currently living here? How is it that San Diego is only beautiful where tourist see? What about Barrio Logan? Plus you need to know about this, is it needed? Do we need it to survive like we do water? How about we focus what little money we have where we NEED it.