Billion-Dollar Bayfront Deal Hinges on Litigation, Financing

A turning point in the long battle over the Navy's stretch of San Diego's downtown bayfront could come Wednesday.

But whatever state coastal commissioners decide, any major developments still might take many years to materialize.

Coastal commissioners meet Wednesday to decide whether the project should undergo a redesign and new review. Litigation involving various aspects of the project is still pending in the courts.

Since private financing and redevelopment dollars are still question marks, 'shovel-ready' status seems a long way off.

At stake is the Pacific Gateway project, a planned $1.3 billion commercial project featuring several highrise hotels and office buildings, including a new regional headquarters for the Navy.

Opponents say it needs to go back to 'square one' in the approval process, and Coastal Commission staffers agree.

The Navy’s so-called "Broadway Complex" first took shape on 15 waterfront acres at the foot of Broadway in the 1920's.

Much of it's an eyesore, and the Navy needs modern digs.

Uncle Sam will long-term lease the land to private developers who'll accommodate the Navy for free, and profit off the commercial aspects of the Pacific Gateway project.

But critics say approvals granted two decades ago should be revoked, because the surrounding area has changed so much since then -- along with the basis for the project itself, since 9/11.

"All their markups, the videos, all the stuff they have to sell this project is out of date," said Cory Briggs, attorney for the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition, a longtime project opponent.

"What they need to do is take that back to the designers and show them the Pentagon's regulations for security and say, 'Great; show us what it looks like with the fences and the barriers," Briggs said. "Now that you've got terrorism concerns, basically the Navy's headquarters is going to be like a military fortress on the waterfront."

The project's backers say it's been tied up in the regulatory and legal processes for far too long, and that now is the time to bring that stretch of downtown San Diego's waterfront into the 21st century.

A recent study by the Fermanian Business Institute of Point Loma Nazarine University indicates that the project would generate 7,400 jobs and an annual economic impact of $850 million.

"This is really prime real estate, so I think there's a great opportunity," said Ruben Barrales, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"And we know these things take time," Barrales said. "If we don't move forward now, we'll never be able to create the kind of jobs and kind of downtown we want to create right on our waterfront.

"I think it's a fantastic project. It creates new open space," Barrales said. "It really makes it pedestrian-friendly."

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