Nearly 100 Redev Sites in Limbo

Nearly 100 Redev Sites in Limbo
Civic San Diego planning sale, developer bids, public use once state agrees

By Roger Showley, as appeared in U~T San Diego, JUNE 26, 2013

What would you do with a park strip in Linda Vista, an unusable garage downtown and dozens of plots at the old Naval Training Center in Point Loma?

Civic San Diego is trying to answer that question as it prepares a property management plan in the wake of last year’s end to redevelopment.

In all 96 sites, including these, lie in limbo as San Diego wrestles with the crumbs — some very valuable — left over from more than 50 years of redevelopment activity.

Civic San Diego’s board, the city agency charged with winding down the workings of 11 project areas, began weighing this legacy of land this week.

But if all goes well, the properties will soon be freed from the deep freeze they’ve been sitting in for more than a year and move forward with development, sale or preservation in place until a new use comes forward.

“We need to explore opportunities to position the properties for maximum value,” said project manager John Collum.

The CivicSD board took no action other than to listen to Collum outline the steps ahead. Members are expected to give their approval next month once the final plan — including estimates of property values — is completed. Then the City Council, an independent oversight board and the state Department of Finance will have their say, projected for late this summer.

The proceeds from the sale would be dispersed to school and college districts, city and county treasuries and other taxing entities. But in most cases, the properties are planned for use as parks, fire stations, commercial development and continued operations under long-term ground leases.

Newly appointed board member Howard Blackson expressed impatience with the process on behalf of North Park advocates of a pocket park planned behind the North Park Theater south of University Avenue.

“Until we get the long-term property management plan approved by the Department of Finance, the city has no authority to enter into any agreements for leases or uses aside from one- or two-day special events,” said CivicSD President Jeff Graham.

Susan Riggs Tinsky, also attending her first meeting, questioned the suggested sale of two leftover parcels of land on Alpha Street and Keeler Court in Southeastern San Diego. She wondered if they could be used instead as community gardens or some other public purpose.

Collum said they are only slivers of land, only inches wide, that are left over from right-of-way land splist — and couldn’t be of much use to anybody other than the adjacent property owner. But he said a sale would would be crafted so as not to show “any favoritism.”

In all there are 42 parcels of land downtown and in nine other former redevelopment projects plus 54 at NTC, now known as Liberty Station.

The management plan broke them into:

10 for government use, such as parks, including the Morley Green strip along Linda Vista Road north of Comstock Street;
18 for future development as previously planned before redevelopment shut down by state order in February 2012;
65 governed by enforceable obligations — including building sites, long-term leaseholds and the historic buildings at Liberty Station;
3 for sale, including the Southeastern mini-parcels and a 250-space downtown garage at Fifth Avenue and A Street.

The garage came in for a bit of discussion, as Graham explained its challenges: a structure full of asbestos, no fire suppression system, inaccessible parking for the handicapped and a $4 million price tag if someone wants to retain it as a garage.

The eight-level garage, including one below ground, originally was built to service the adjacent former San Diego Athletic Club/World Trade Center Building at Sixth Avenue and A Street, recently reopened as the Connections Housing facility for the homeless. Collum said it is currently closed pending required building code improvements for safety and access. Whether it ever reopens as a garage again remains to be seen.

“I don’t know if we issued a request for proposals that we would get any responses, but we might,” Graham said.

A buyer might demolish the building and redevelop site, he said, but that’s a better option than having the city retain ownership, which it received when the former property owner donated it to the city years ago.