The Continued Re-Development of the Port of San Diego

San Diego’s waterfront is facing a dramatic makeover as a result of key decisions by the port board in the last nine months. 

Most recently, the San Diego Unified Port District commissioners approved OliverMcMillan and Sunroad Enterprises to redevelop the eastern part of Harbor Island and the former rental car lots on Harbor Drive.

Earlier they greenlighted the redevelopment of Seaport Village into a mixed-use complex of hotels, shops and tourist attractions; the replacement of Anthony’s Fish Grotto with a Brigantine set of restaurants and bars; and a rebooting of a 45-story hotel proposal behind the San Diego Convention Center.

All this follows the 2013 approval of a 50-year vision for San Diego Bay and precedes a new master plan expected in the next two or three years.

We couldn’t be more excited about connecting that vision with reality.

“The bayfront is coming alive with all these wonderful land uses,” said Port Chairman Marshall Merrifield. “We couldn’t be more excited about connecting that vision with reality.”

Added Port President and CEO Randa Coniglio: “I think we have more going on all at once than we probably have ever had in the port’s history in terms of contemplated development.”

If all projects planned, proposed and approved are built, the port could see billions of dollars in new development and millions more it receives in rent from the state tidelands it overseas.

Some critics say the port should finish its master plan before approving these and other major projects. They call the current approach a continuation of the port’s habit of “piecemeal planning,” reflected in the 38 amendments to the port’s 1980 master plan.

But Jason Giffin, the port’s top planner, said the approach being taken reflects both hopes for the future and the practical side of what the private sector is interested in doing. Ultimately the California Coastal Commission will have to approve a new master plan with all the new developments included.

“We’re able to test ideas by looking strategically around the bay for areas ripe for development, activation or new infusion of planning,” Giffin said.

The port has more than 100 big and small projects and improvements in the works. Here are 19 high-profile ones from north to south (see interactive map for locations) and where they stand.

1. Shelter Island: A $9.5 million boat launch was approved last month to handle the 50,000 and growing launches a year, believed the busiest such facility in the state. Construction is due to begin early next year. More broadly, the port is considering more dramatic improvements to the man-made peninsula built in the 1950s. Forums with nearby residents and businesses are expected to be a key feature.

Shelter Island's boat launch ramp will be replaced by a $9.5 million facility. (San Diego Unified Port District)

Shelter Island's boat launch ramp will be replaced by a $9.5 million facility. (San Diego Unified Port District)

2. Harbor Island: The port’s approval of OliverMcMillan and Sunroad Enterprises as dual developers for 57 acres of land and water of Harbor Island East means both companies will have to return with revised plans before they sign exclusive negotiating agreements. Two key changes are likely the elimination of a high-rise hotel at the so-called “elbow” of land that connects the man-made peninsula with Harbor Drive; a low-rise hotel is more likely, given previous California Coastal Commission preferences; and the elimination of a new port headquarters building in light of the projected $60 million cost. That site could be reconfigured for another or larger hotel. No date has been set for when new plans are ready for port consideration.

Sunroad's proposal for Harbor Island East redevelopment illustrates the new feeling and amenities planned. (Sunroad Enterprises)

Sunroad's proposal for Harbor Island East redevelopment illustrates the new feeling and amenities planned. (Sunroad Enterprises)

3. Grape Street piers: The so-called “Crescent,” where Harbor Drive bends to the south, has wooden piers that need to be replaced and various ideas to increase recreational opportunities, such as the inclusion of a man-made beach. The look and function of Harbor Drive south of Grape Street also figures into what will happen.

The wooden Grape Street piers at the Crescent need to be replaced. (Scott Lamoreaux)

The wooden Grape Street piers at the Crescent need to be replaced. (Scott Lamoreaux)

4. Solar Turbines parking lot: The port previously considered replacing the lot with a low-cost hostel facility. Port President Randa Coniglio says the goal is to move parking off the bayfront but replacement parking and mobility issues remain unclear. An ad hoc port board committee is looking at these issues. Meanwhile, a new project on the lot has yet to be formally sought.

The Solar Turbines parking lot has been looked at a possible hostel site. (Roger Showley/UT)

The Solar Turbines parking lot has been looked at a possible hostel site. (Roger Showley/UT)

5. North Embarcadero Visionary Plan: The port completed the $30 million first phase between B Street Pier and Broadway Pier last year, but the end to redevelopment financing makes it problematic to move forward on the next phase. The port plans to reopen discussions, starting with the joint powers authority of the port, city and Civic San Diego and perhaps bringing back the Navy and county government as planning partners.

The first phase of the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan as seen in this 2014 construction photo. 

The first phase of the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan as seen in this 2014 construction photo. 

6. B Street Pier: The cruise ship terminal will get a $1 million escalator to improve passenger access but the long-term replacement of the old warehouse will have to await long-term commitments to cruise ship companies to home porting in San Diego. “It’s hard to consider, relative to all other things we’re doing, to spend tens of millions of dollars when the cruise ship industry is so volatile,” Coniglio said.

B Street Pier is the location of the cruise ship terminal, a former warehouse. (Tony Webster/SD Unified Port District)

B Street Pier is the location of the cruise ship terminal, a former warehouse. (Tony Webster/SD Unified Port District)

7. Anthony’s/Brigantine: The port entered exclusive negotiations with Brigantine Restaurants last year to replace Anthony’s Fish Grotto, a 70-year fixture on the bay, with a $13 million “Portside Pier,” which includes a steak-and-seafood Brigantine, Miguel’s Mexican and Ketch Grill & Taps plus an expanded dock-and-dine pier. Opening is expected in 2018.

The Brigantine's Portside Pier project proposes Mexican and seafood restaurants, a coffee and gelato bar and a craft brew pub. Public areas would a public deck and expanded dock. (Brigantine Restaurants)

The Brigantine's Portside Pier project proposes Mexican and seafood restaurants, a coffee and gelato bar and a craft brew pub. Public areas would a public deck and expanded dock. (Brigantine Restaurants)

8. Navy Facilities Engineering Command: The Navy occupies 1940s-era buildings at 1220 Pacific Highway, squeezed between the Wyndham Hotel and the recently opened Lane Field hotels with 400 rooms by Marriott, Residence Inn and SpringHillSuites. The Navy once sought $26.5 million in relocation payments and discussions have proceeded behind the scenes to negotiate a change. The Navy holds a lease on the location that doesn’t expire until 2049.

The Navy Facilities Engineering Command offices at 1220 Pacific Highway date back to the 1940s. (Roger Showley/UT)

The Navy Facilities Engineering Command offices at 1220 Pacific Highway date back to the 1940s. (Roger Showley/UT)

9. Lane Field InterContinental Hotel: Construction began earlier this year on the 18-story, $215 million, 400-room hotel, a twin to the Marriott hotels building to the north. Completion is expected in 2018.

Lane Field's two hotel towers, the one in the background opened this year, and the second, an InterContinental, expected to open in 2018. (San Diego Unified Port District)

Lane Field's two hotel towers, the one in the background opened this year, and the second, an InterContinental, expected to open in 2018. (San Diego Unified Port District)

10. Navy Pier: The USS Midway Museum proposed turning the pier into “Veterans Park” on an elevated landscaped deck, above surface parking, and inclusion of an iconic 500-foot-high sculpture, “Wings of Freedom,” that resembles sails or wings. This idea, along with a Ferris wheel proposed by several companies, prompted the port to set aside individual project proposals and to embark on a comprehensive rewrite of its master plan. The look and function of the pier are expected to be addressed in the plan. 

One from the proposal submitted in 2011 proposed a 500-foot high "Wings of Freedom" sculpture and park above a parking deck at Navy Pier. (USS Midway Museum)

One from the proposal submitted in 2011 proposed a 500-foot high "Wings of Freedom" sculpture and park above a parking deck at Navy Pier. (USS Midway Museum)

11. Seaport Village: The port board voted in July to focus on the team proposing the $1.3 billion Seaport San Diego redevelopment. If exclusive negotiations commence following an October board update, then developers represented by Yehudi “Gaf” Gaffen propose to replace the 36-year-old specialty shopping center with hotels, shops, restaurants, a beach, aquarium and 480-foot observation tower, “The Spire.” Pending final board and California Coastal Commission approval, the first phase could open in 2020.

Seaport San Diego would replace Seaport Village. (San Diego Unified Port District)

Seaport San Diego would replace Seaport Village. (San Diego Unified Port District)

12. San Diego Convention Center and Fifth Avenue Landing hotel:Future expansion of the 27-year-old center hinges in part on the Nov. 8 ballot Measure C, championed by the Chargers, and Measure D, the Citizens Plan, which both have to do with convention and stadium planning. Meanwhile, the port has approved  more than $20 million in infrastructure bank loans to repair the Sails Pavilion on the roof. Behind the center, the port authorized environmental review for the Fifth Avenue Landing hotel for up to 850 rooms and a 565-bed low-priced hotel. 

The Fifth Avenue Landing hotel would be built on the bayside of the San Diego Convention Center. (Gensler)

The Fifth Avenue Landing hotel would be built on the bayside of the San Diego Convention Center. (Gensler)

13. 10th Avenue Marine Terminal: The port is nearing completion on an environmental review of a reconfiguration of the terminal to remove two cargo sheds and build more flexibility in the break-bulk, refrigerated container and bulk cargo operations.

14. San Diego-Coronado Bridge: A proposed lighting project is moving forward toward a possible completion 2019, the 50th anniversary of the bridge and 250th anniversary of the founding of San Diego. About $500,000 has been raised to start a feasibility study and confirm if the original $8 million budget is accurate. The port hopes to fund the project from port tenant art budgets.

The San Diego-Coronado Bridge lighting program would cost about $8 million. (San Diego Unified Port District)

The San Diego-Coronado Bridge lighting program would cost about $8 million. (San Diego Unified Port District)

15. Chula Vista Bayfront: The port is negotiating with  RIDA Development in 2015 to build a resort hotel and convention facility on the 535-acre site. Earlier this year the port and Pacifica Companies agreed to a land swap to allow Pacifica to build the 1,500 units, 15,000 square feet of retail and a 250-room hotel. The port received an environmentally sensitive area in return.

Pacifica and the port agreed to swap to allow the company to build a hotel and residential project as part of the Chula Vista Bayfront project. (San Diego Unified Port District)

Pacifica and the port agreed to swap to allow the company to build a hotel and residential project as part of the Chula Vista Bayfront project. (San Diego Unified Port District)

From the UTSD