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Concept Approved for $50-Million Seaport Village Expansion

Times Staff Writer

The San Diego Unified Port District granted unanimous approval Tuesday to conceptual plans for a major expansion of Seaport Village, but postponed a decision on some elements of the proposal, including a five-story parking garage, a Ferris wheel and a multi-screen movie theater.

The port commissioners expressed their willingness to get the ball rolling on the long-awaited $50-million expansion, which will use the old police station on Market Street. They balked, however, at granting approval on the specifics of a parking garage for the site.

“The major problem here is the parking garage,” said Commissioner Louis Wolfsheimer. “Because it is so visible and it’s on the waterfront, it has to be an exemplary facility.”

Gilda Servetter, spokeswoman for a group of downtown residents, told commissioners that the residents prefer a structure that would be lower and less bulky. “That whole side of the harbor is becoming a wall,” Servetter said. “We want something that does not block us off visually or psychologically.”

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The Port District staff analysis recommended that the structure be lowered by 4 feet, and landscaping added to soften its visual impact. However, Seaport Village attorney Richard Burt appeared to win the sympathy of several commissioners by arguing that lowering the building so little would not be cost-effective and “isn’t going to buy you anything aesthetically.”

Agreed to Postpone Decision

The commissioners, still concerned about the aesthetics of the structure, agreed to postpone a decision on its specifics, including its height, architecture and landscaping, until their Jan. 24 meeting. At that time, Seaport Village representatives will also be required to present proof that the plans for the parking garage have passed muster with other local agencies that have a stake in the development of the waterfront.

Although Seaport Village President Lee Stein said the plans had already been informally approved by the mayor, individual City Council members and representatives of the Centre City Development Corp., the commissioners requested official feedback before granting their approval. The architects of the project were directed to show the plans for the garage to the council, the CCDC and concerned citizens’ groups to obtain their comments, then present their findings at the January meeting.

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The Port District also reserved approval of a proposed Ferris wheel, which would be situated on a yet-to-be constructed pier. Seaport Village won approval for the addition of a pier during initial construction in the late 1970s, but chose not to build one at that time, Stein said. The current expansion plans call for a pier with a restaurant and a neon-lit Ferris wheel, which the planners expect to become a nighttime landmark.

Commissioner Milford Portwood said he is concerned that a Ferris wheel would disrupt the “casual and serene” atmosphere of Seaport Village. Wolfsheimer and other commissioners questioned whether a six-screen movie theater would draw large, noisy crowds unsuitable for the area.

The Port District staff analysis criticized the theater plan as “a use more typically found in an urban shopping center than in a tourist-oriented shopping village.” The commissioners agreed to reserve approval of the theater and Ferris wheel until the January meeting.

Burt, the Seaport Village attorney, said outside the meeting that he was not disappointed by the Port District’s decision to hold back on approving certain aspects of the expansion. “You never get everything you ask for,” he said. “But we’re very happy to do whatever they want us to do.”

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The Port District’s approval of most of the conceptual plan starts the clock running on a previously approved option agreement with the developers of Seaport Village. Under the terms of the two-year option agreement, both Seaport Village and the Port District must meet certain deadlines for presenting plans and proceeding with the acquisition of property.

Tuesday’s action gave the project’s architects the green light to begin drawing up specific schematic designs for the expansion, which will eventually increase the size of Seaport Village by 166%. If the rest of the expansion plans proceed smoothly, Seaport Village will begin construction Dec. 1, 1990. The 253,075-square-foot expansion, which will include a man-made lagoon and a central plaza with a fountain, is scheduled for completion in September, 1992.


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