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San Diego State University

Fowler College of
Business Administration

Developing San Diego’s Most Sought-After Land Parcels: Local Builders Discuss Their Visions for San Diego Bayfront Property

The waterfront area of San Diego’s downtown may be undergoing some new development as four local companies have submitted plans to the Unified Port of San Diego for consideration.

These plans were presented and discussed with the public at a breakfast and networking event hosted by The Corky McMillin Center for Real Estate at SDSU on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. The event was titled “Building on the Bay: Big Changes Planned for San Diego’s Waterfront” and was attended by approximately 150 people.

SDSU alumnus and board chair of SDSU’s Corky McMillin Center for Real Estate, Scott Brusseau (’82, real estate), provided opening remarks and introduced fellow alumnus and the president/commissioner of the San Diego Unified Port , Dan Malcolm (’89, real estate).

According to Malcolm, the four proposed projects had a combined worth of $3 billion.

Early Stages
Before introducing each of speakers, Malcolm discussed how there have been a number of redevelopment proposals submitted to the port district and how each of the presenters at the event were in the early stages of offering development plans for San Diego’s downtown waterfront area. He went on to say that since no environmental reports had been started for any of the projects being discussed, the port and the developers were nowhere near close to breaking ground.

Many Approvals Expected for Proposed Harbor Island Hotel
The first presenter introduced by Malcolm was Uri Feldman, president of Sunroad Holding Corporation. Sunroad was responsible for developing the Coasterra and C-Level/Island Prime restaurant properties that are now managed by the Cohn Restaurant Group.

Sunroad is proposing to build a 325-room hotel on an empty lot on Harbor Island. The hotel had been the subject of a lawsuit between Unified Port of San Diego and the California Coast Commission (CCC) in which the courts ruled in favor of the port. The project is currently waiting for the CCC to provide approval, but that is just one of many hoops to jump through before groundbreaking can begin. Feldman pointed out that Sunroad had to get approval from 10 different agencies before they were able to build Coasterra on the old Reuben E. Lee site, located on San Diego’s Shelter Island.

Mixed-Use Property Near San Diego Airport Under Review
Paul Buss, president of OliverMcMillan, took the podium next to discuss his company’s proposed development near the San Diego International Airport formerly occupied by a number of car rental agencies. OliverMcMillan has developed commercial mixed –use sites from Atlanta to Hawaii and they’ve laid out plans for a mixed-use property development for this site as well. Buss discussed his company’s plan for hotels, along with retail, restaurant and office space that would offer “extensive waterfront views and activities, such as kayaking and paddle boarding,” on the now vacant location.

School May Be Planned for Seaport Village Site
Buss was followed by Yehudi Gaffen, CEO of Gafcon, who discussed his company’s proposed development of the current Seaport Village site. Gaffen said this site was ripe for redevelopment since Seaport Village was popular only with tourists and not the local population.

Like the OliverMcMillan proposal, Gafcon’s proposed redevelopment location, Seaport San Diego, would be mixed-use and would include hotel space, retail and restaurant establishments, a park, a pier, an aquarium, and a barge that would sit in San Diego Bay that would be used for movies and other forms of entertainment. The aquarium would have a roof-top area where members of public could – at no charge - view sea life from glass floors situated above the aquatic tanks. Parking for the entire site would be primarily in a new underground parking garage

The Gafcon site would be unique from the other proposed developments in that it encompasses an educational facility which would be used to train hospitality workers in its plans. “Those trained workers could then be hired to work at Seaport San Diego,” said Gaffen.

Yachts Dominate Convention Center Waterfront
The next presenter, Robert Green, also had a unique aspect to his company’s planned development. Green, who is the president and CEO of The Robert Green Company, told the audience that his company does not need to go through the normal competitive bid process since they are already the lease holder on the intended re-development site. They are currently in negotiations with the port to proceed with the project.

The location of Green’s targeted redevelopment site was formerly known as the Marine Contractor’s Basin and partially encompasses the part of the Embarcadero that sits behind the San Diego Convention Center.

The Robert Green Company’s plan calls for a series of docks for yachts, a low-cost “youth hotel-style” hotel and a large luxury hotel whose design would be based on the shape of the sail from the type of yachts used during the America’s Cup competition. There is also a pedestrian bridge in the design that could allow foot traffic from the street level in front of the convention center to the waterfront location.

Homeless, Environmental Reports May Be A Game-Changer
As the event drew to a conclusion, Malcolm was asked about the potential displacement of the many homeless people who frequent this area. Malcolm responded that the city is currently working on this issue with the Alpha Project to treat the underlying cause of homelessness and finding solutions to address those issues.

But the homeless population is just one of the hurdles facing developers who want to redevelop waterfront property within the city of San Diego. All four developers face numerous environmental reports and approval processes before any of the projects can commence. In fact, Gaffen estimated that it would be “at least eight years before any construction can begin.”

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