Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
San Diego’s Rockefeller Center?
Manchester Pacific Gateway, the planned $1.2 billion redevelopment of the 13.7-acre Navy Broadway Complex, in the works for nearly 30 years, finally got a close look by the city’s downtown review agency and the reaction wasn’t particularly favorable.
“It’s clear this project was influenced by Rockefeller Center,” said Jeff Gattas, chairman of Civic San Diego, a city-owned nonprofit.
He didn’t mean that as a compliment. The project in his view would replace two block-sized, monolithic buildings with seven others.
New York City’s Rockefeller Center, built on 22 acres in the 1930s, is a Art Deco national landmark that includes includes Radio City Music Hall, NBC studios and the famous ice skating rink lorded over by a golden statue of Prometheus.
But it was bulk and scale of Rockefeller Center that Gattas apparently thought wasn’t appropriate on San Diego’s waterfront.
“I don’t think it meets the design (concepts) of where we are in 2015 for Civic San Diego,” Gattas said of Pacific Gateway.
Director Murtaza Baxamusa objected to the fact that the City Council won’t have a final say under terms granted in 1992 through a development agreement with the Navy. Much has changed over the years, he said, but the development cannot be revised.
“We’re analyzing a product design for 1992 because that’s what this responds to,” Baxamusa said. “We’re in 2015 now and we’re supposed to ignore all the information that’s come out since, including sea-level rise?”
But as several directors and the staff reminded the board, a 1987 federal law and the 1992 development agreement limit what locals can do about a federally owned piece of land that voters gave the Navy in 1920.
The California Coastal Commission, which originally approved the plan, sued to reconsider the project but lately settled after some minor changes were made.
The goal under a federal law sponsored by then-Rep. Bill Lowery, R-San Diego, was to lease the property for 99 years to a developer. The builder would be free to build 3 million square feet of office, hotel and retail space as long as the Navy gets a new 351,000-square-foot headquarters building at no cost to taxpayers.
And that’s what developer Doug Manchester, former publisher of The San Diego Union-Tribune, has been planning since winning the lease in 2006.
If the final legal hurdles can be overcome, construction could start next year and the first phase completed in 2019.
By the numbers: block by block
Size and location: 13.7 acres bounded by Broadway, Pacific Highway, Harbor Drive
Block 1: 1.9 acre park; 27-story, 807,000-square-foot office tower; 88,000 square feet retail.
Block 2: 29-story, 1.1 million-square-foot hotel with 1,200 rooms and 18,000 square feet of supporting retail; 40,000-square-foot museum with 25,000 square feet of retail.
Block 3: Eight-story, 178,000-square-foot office building with 18,000 square feet of retail; 18-story, 351,000-square-foot Navy headquarters building
Block 4: Six-story, 64,000-square-foot office tower; 10-story, 147,000-square-foot hotel with 190 rooms; 76,000 square feet of retail.
Many ideas have been proposed for redevelopment of the land, most often a local version of Chicago’s celebrated 24.5-acre Millennium Park on the site of former railyards. The argument went that with so much high-rise development happening downtown, some breathing room was needed at the waterfront.
Some critics, including Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, suggested the Navy have its building constructed elsewhere on a local military base where security would be tighter than in a downtown setting.
But the Navy stuck by its original plan and Kevin Heinly, principal and managing director of Gensler’s San Diego office, presented the detailed architectural concept drawings for the first time to CivicSD for a final consistency determination. Final action is scheduled Dec. 9.
“Rockefeller Center was one of the inspirations,” Heinly acknowledged in an interview. But he promised anything but a monolithic behemoth on San Diego Bay.
“As it evolves, you’ll see a greater degree of variation integrated into the project,” he said in an interview after the CivicSD meeting.