Ambitious Coastal Park Raises Concerns

Backers of San Diego's Midway Museum have launched a bold concept for a bayfront veterans park that would be the largest of its kind on the West Coast.

But the architecture raises troublesome issues for the San Diego Unified Port Commission and, ultimately, the California Coastal Commission.

Philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, a namesake of Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, already has pledged $35 million.

The institute's other namesake, Malin Burnham, also is backing the project and rounding up more private capital.

Selling the 'aesthetics' to public agencies may be the hardest part.

"We would like to build a veterans park that comes to represent all the great veterans and wonderful, patriotic zeal here of San Diego," says retired Navy admiral Mac McLaughlin, president and CEO of the Midway Museum. "We are really making a huge effort to increase the views out on Navy Pier."

The pier's tenant, a long-retired aircraft carrier that opened as a floating museum and public events venue in 2004, is a big-time view-blocker on the bay.

Its lease calls for its nonprofit operators not only to build a nearly 6-acre veterans park, but provide parking for visitors.

Efforts to arrange off-site parking have stalled, so the design concept accomplishes the mission by stacking the park on a level above the pier deck, which would accommodate 500 cars down below.

The project reaches for an iconic look with titanium sails and scultped 'wings' that would jut 400 and 500 feet skyward -- reflecting San Diego's maritime character and its history as the birthplace of Naval aviation.

"This is probably the most dramatic thing that I have seen in San Diego," Port Commissioner Bob Nelson said following a public presentation Tuesday. "To me, it is personally breathtaking."

But the designs face the prospect of choppy waters through the approval process.

Critics who have won or sustained long battles against other major bayfront projects object to an upper-level park location and the towering 'wings'.

"We're willing to chat," said Cory Briggs, attorney for the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition, "but the icon that they talk about should not be another permanent structure that blocks the views of the bay, period ...

"Otherwise, this thing is DOA. And we will fight it tooth and nail."

The Midway's park designs include a permanent home for the San Diego Symphony's Summer Pops series.

There'll be three public presentations later this month, and in early December to gather further input.

Port consultants previously have offered eight other concepts.

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