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As the border expands, so does Urban Land Institute

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The Urban Land Institute San Diego/Tijuana District Council serves members on both sides of the border, representing a spectrum of land use and real estate development disciplines in private enterprise and public service.

As many new projects are unfolding upon the U.S.-Mexico border, ULI’s Bi-National Committee is looking ahead to 2012 with renewed interest and focus.

“There are opportunities in Tijuana that weren’t there before,” said Mary Lydon, executive director of ULI in San Diego. “The area has opened up again, and our members are ready to explore it.”

Among the activities on the Bi-National Committee’s to-do list is a tour of Tijuana, currently being planned in coordination with the Tijuana Economic Development Corp.

The goal of the tour is for ULI’s members to go to Tijuana and see firsthand the transformation taking place.

Sites on the tour may include Tijuana’s downtown redevelopment, new convention center, the new soccer stadium and even a new gastronomic district.

“Many people have not been to the city in a few years, and we think it is important to understand the opportunities that are available," Lydon said.

"The work at the San Ysidro port and the additional traffic lanes being added will make a huge difference in terms of traveling across the border, which make these opportunities even more attractive.”

She also cited the new border crossing connecting Tijuana International Airport to a passenger terminal in San Diego County as a huge step toward improving border crossing hassles.

The crossing would allow travelers to park on the U.S. side, walk across an enclosed pedestrian bridge into Mexico and board planes directly out of the General Abelardo L. Rodriguez airport, located east of downtown Tijuana.

The privately funded, $78 million project is scheduled to open in 2013.

Travel across the border has been a persistent challenge for many years and has had a severe economic effect on both countries. To inform its membership about border issues, including travel, ULI kicked off the new year by focusing its January breakfast meeting on the expansion of the San Ysidro border crossing.

At the breakfast meeting, moderator Cindy Gompper-Graves, chief executive officer for the South County Economic Development Council, said that many “do not realize the dollars going across the border and the jobs that are being created. With 50,000 vehicles and 25,000 pedestrians crossing the border each day, it is the largest economic driver in San Diego County.”

Panelist Tina Casgar with the San Diego Association of Governments called the flow of $30 billion of commerce annually across the border the result of “unique interdependent economies,” yet wait times at the border are causing significant negative economic impact with $7.2 billion or 62,000 jobs lost to inefficiencies.

Casgar reviewed several new projects that would improve the flow of people and freight including an expansion of the San Ysidro Port, a new crossing at Otay Mesa (2.5 miles east of the current crossing) and the addition of an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) at all border crossings that would provide clearer signage and real time traffic information regarding road conditions, wait times and more.

The San Ysidro Port of Entry processes more personal vehicles and people annually than all other U.S. border crossings combined, according to Maria Ciprazo, of the General Service Administration Pacific Rim Region.

At the breakfast, Ciprazo outlined three phases of development happening at the border crossing to cut the current average wait time of two hours (to enter the United States) to one half hour. Phase 1, which is completed, was a new pedestrian bridge. Phase 2 focuses on rebuilding the secondary lanes with a focus on private vehicles. Phase 3 will improve the pedestrian experience and include such features as a civic center-like project. Ciprazo noted that the challenge to developing the San Ysidro crossing is that the site is limited in terms of space because of existing retail and Interstate 5 that connect to the border.

Craig Curtis of Miller Hull, a Seattle-based architectural firm, is the design partner behind the $400 million renovation of the San Ysidro border crossing. He shared the three goals for the renovations to the border: improve security, improve through-put of vehicles, and improve the experience of the passengers and visitors.

The design features a vertical approach that takes people off the ground level, and canopies that require minimal columns for support were designed for the ground level coverage.

The project team plans to apply for a LEED Platinum certification when completed.

Rounding out the program was panelist Flavio Olivieri, of the Tijuana Economic Development Corporation, who spoke of the importance of improvements to the border crossings for both countries.

Tijuana’s population is expected to grow by 50 percent in the next 10 years, to 3 million.

The Baja California government is planning three major bridges at the south bound entry to connect three vital areas of Tijuana.

Additionally, throughout the city there are plans for a new civic plaza and a world trade center, a canal expansion, a new convention center, a R&D/technology park and extensive new housing.

Despite aggressive plans to improve the San Ysidro border, funding for all of the improvements has not been secured.

According to Gompper-Graves, a major challenge of getting funding from the federal government is that decision makers outside of the region do not understand the benefits.

Warren is president of San Diego based TW2 Marketing, Inc. which provides public relations and communications support to ULI San Diego.

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