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Plans for Vast Navy Bayfront Project to Receive 1st Hearings

Times Staff Writer

Three years ago, the Navy unveiled ambitious plans to transform its downtown base and supply center into a military version of a major corporate headquarters.

Although construction on the massive project isn’t scheduled to begin until 1992 at the earliest, and will take about 12 years to fully build, many of the crucial first steps in the development are occurring now.

On Monday, the Navy will hold two hearings--at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on the 12th floor of City Hall--at which the public is invited to comment on the fledgling project. Testimony provided at the hearings will be included as part of both the state and federal environmental impact analyses required by law and will formally kick off the environmental review.

First Public Input

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Although the Navy has been in frequent contact with the Broadway Complex-Bayfront Coordinating Group--a committee of local officials and developers formed largely in response to the initial Navy proposal--the hearings Monday will mark the first time the public has had the opportunity to have its say. It won’t be the last, as other hearings will be held when the environmental report is completed and when a specific development proposal outlining more specific aspects of construction such as urban design, density and height becomes reality.

In essence, the Navy wants to consolidate many of its far-flung regional administrative operations onto choice waterfront property now occupied by the Naval Base and Supply Center, situated on 16 acres between popular Seaport Village and busy Broadway.

Capt. Wayne Goodermote, the officer in charge of the Broadway Complex project, told reporters at a briefing Thursday that it is too early to know exactly how big a facility will be built, although there is no question it will be huge.

A market research and economic study of the property prepared for the Navy by the Goodkin Group of San Diego says the complex will generally consist of about 4 million square feet of high-rise offices, hotels and retail stores. Of that, the Navy would use about 1 million square feet for offices. By comparison, the high-rise First Interstate Bank building at 5th Avenue and B Street contains about 500,000 square feet.

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The Navy’s plan is based on the premise, backed by the Goodkin report, that private developers, hungry to build on the waterfront, will pay for the opportunity by absorbing about 75% of the cost of building the new headquarters for the Navy.

2,600 Hotel Rooms

In return, the developers would profit by putting up other private office buildings and about 2,600 hotel rooms on the property, according to the consultant’s report.

At first, the Navy had hoped it could get a free ride, but the scale of development required to make that happen was called “unreasonable” by a previous Navy official responsible for the project, Cmdr. Eugene Talmadge. Instead the Navy will pick up 25% of the cost to build its offices.

The report by the Goodkin Group estimated the Navy’s cost over several years of the phased development at about $33 million. In contrast, if the Navy had been forced to demolish its existing buildings and then construct its 1-million-square-foot headquarters, the cost would have been about $148 million.

According to the consultant, the value of the complex when finished will probably range from $750 million to $1 billion, and probably require the involvement of several developers.

The sheer size of the proposal has raised fears about overdevelopment along the central bayfront, a concern of which the Navy is keenly aware. That is the main reason behind the Navy joining with groups such as the Broadway Complex-Bayfront Coordinating Group and signing a memorandum of understanding with the city of San Diego.

The memorandum, the precursor to a formal development agreement with the City Council, calls on the two sides to cooperate in coming up with a development plan that will include urban design guidelines.

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Too Early for Specifics

Goodermote said Thursday that the only thing definite is that the Navy needs 1 million square feet of office space.

He acknowledged that “everyone is anxious to see what the final design will look like,” but said it is too early to have an idea about that.

Under the timetable described by Goodermote, the draft environmental review will take 9 or 10 months. The review will include analysis of issues such as view corridors, traffic and circulation, waterfront access and open space, land-use plans for the area, aesthetics, air quality, public safety, geology and a number of other issues, including any new ones raised at Monday’s hearings.

After that initial environmental report is done, the public will have 45 days in which to comment, including at another formal hearing. The final environmental report is expected to be completed 16 to 17 months from now.

Although the environmental analysis is occurring, the Navy will be moving on a separate track to complete work on the development guidelines for the project. After both the environmental work is accomplished and the development guidelines are ready, it may take another year to select the developers for the project, a process that is expected to be decided through competitive bidding.

Although the Navy favors a private/public joint venture, Goodermote said the environmental review will also look at other alternatives, such as whether the Navy alone stays at the site; whether private commercial developers should build on the site and have the Navy move its facility to another downtown location; whether some of the existing buildings, some as old as 60 years, should be reused; and whether the whole idea should be scrapped.

Strategically Important Pier

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However, Goodermote said it is extremely unlikely that the Navy will ever abandon the area because of the deep-water pier across Harbor Drive from the supply center. The pier, serviced by a railroad line, is considered strategically important and would likely be heavily used in the event of war.

Because the Broadway Complex is so large, taking up eight blocks, and inaccessible to the public, one of the ideas behind the proposed transformation is opening the area more to the public. A possibility that will be explored, Goodermote said, is cutting E, F and G streets through the property and connecting them with Harbor Drive and the G Street Mole, which is undergoing major reconstruction.

Although the Navy has about seven staff people assigned to the project, the bulk of the work, including the environmental review, is being conducted by consultants led by the ROMA Design Group of San Francisco. ROMA is the lead consultant the city of San Diego hired to study alternative sites for a new City Hall.

In that matter, ROMA recommended that the city construct a monumental Civic Center complex it called a “Capitol on the Hill” at the eastern end of downtown. The recommendation is pending before the City Council.


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