Convention Center Gets Watchdog: Coastal Panel

Times Staff Writer

California Coastal Commission members, who unanimously approved plans for San Diego's new bayside convention center in November, decided Thursday that they want to keep tabs on the construction and operation of the $125-million complex planned for Navy Field.

Commission Chairman Melvin Nutter and Commissioner George Shipp questioned whether changes affecting public access, view blockage, parking or landscaping would be considered "substantial" by the port commissioners. The San Diego Unified Port District representatives had promised coastal commissioners that they would resubmit the convention center plans to the state agency if substantial changes were made in the design or proposed uses of the facility.

Plans call for a 250,000-square-foot exhibition hall, 100,000 square feet of meeting rooms, 267,000 square feet of support and circulation space, parking for 2,000 cars and site improvements. A third hotel site, also approved in November, calls for 800 to 1,200 hotel rooms; 70,000 to 80,000 square feet of meeting, banquet and restaurant space; 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of retail shops, and parking for about 1,200 cars.

Nutter argued that the Coastal Commission staff had erred in finding that the convention center project, once it had been approved by the commissioners as part of the Port District's master plan, no longer was under the control of the Coastal Commission. However, he voted with the majority of commissioners in requiring the Port District to apply to the Coastal Commission for approval if any substantial changes in the proposal are made.

Both Nutter and Shipp conceded later that they had no objections to plans for the center, but Shipp argued that "we could find that they had built a 250,000-square-foot shopping center down there and not be able to do a thing about it," unless the Port District submits an amendment to its plan.

Commissioner Michael Wornum sided with Shipp in expressing distrust of Port District officials, who, he said, "behaved deplorably in the Barrio Logan matter." He was referring to the Port District's refusal to follow state Coastal Commission recommendations to donate a 5.4-acre tidelands site for a bayside extension to Chicano Park.

The commission finally voted 6-2, with Wornum and Shipp dissenting, to adopt findings substantiating their earlier unanimous approval of the convention center proposal and a third hotel on the site.

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