Jan. 25 2012 11:40 AM

New U-T San Diego owner and I have the ‘vision' thing in common

Doug Manchester
On Sunday, new U-T San Diego poobahs Doug Manchester and John Lynch told readers that “San Diego sometimes seems to have lost its ability to think big.” They said we “need to think about the options with fresh eyes, without preconceived notions of what is or is not possible” and that we “must not let the boundaries of our city's enormous possibilities be limited by too-modest dreams of our own.”

God, I totally agree. In fact, in this very space on Sept. 10, 2008, I said that “San Diego should aspire to great things” and that “refusing to dream big because of the sins of the past is just compounding the misery and punishing the future.” I added that “this city needs some nutty thinking right about now. It needs an outside-the-box conversation about the future of an incredibly important chunk of real estate.”

That chunk of real estate was on San Diego's waterfront—and, coincidentally, so is the chunk of real estate about which Manchester and Lynch want us to dream without limits. The three of us are, like, brothers from other mothers! Right?

Yet, there are differences. Manchester and Lynch, via an unsigned Page A1 editorial, were proposing a grand plan for a sprawling sports-and-entertainment complex (and gritty maritime operations, for now) at what's presently the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal, where exported and imported products are loaded and unloaded. It would include a new football stadium, an arena and an expanded convention center.

Ironically, in 2008, I was dreaming about booting Manchester himself off of another waterfront property, the Navy Broadway Complex—where he's proposing to build hotels, offices and a new Navy headquarters—and using it for a new city hall, plus a new Navy headquarters or a new main library (now being built Downtown) and a huge public park. Though it wasn't mentioned in my piece, I kind of liked the idea some activists had to move cruise-ship operations to Tenth Avenue Terminal.

Both plans were big on the “vision” thing and small on details: In 2008, I said, “I'm just the vision guy; my job is to come up with really expensive plans—now I need folks with bigger brains to make it happen.” And here's Lynch talking to U-T reporter Matt Hall on Monday: “We were never intending to dot every ‘i' and cross every ‘t'. We were trying to paint a vision.”

The thing is, my idea was somewhat whimsical while Lynch and Manchester seem as serious as Chargers fans are when they're calling for Norv turner's head. They've seized control of their opinion section and have left no doubt as to the extent of their zeal to directly shape San Diego's ongoing development. “Beginning today,” their editorial declared, “realizing this bold vision is priority No. 1 for U-T San Diego.” They had to be reminded by a reader comment—the first one—that their No. 1 priority might actually be quality journalism. Now, one of their quality journalists, Hall, is spending time chasing the news that his employers have created, despite no indication that the U-T's proposal is being regarded by city and port officials as anything more than a zany sideshow.

Under the new leadership, that paper is going to be really fun to watch. If you haven't read Rob Davis' recent profile of Manchester in voiceofsandiego.org, you should. It made me think of Manchester as a mega-rich and powerful version of Al Franken's Stuart Smalley character from the '90s-era Saturday Night Live. Manchester, who's almost pathologically positive and seems to be insisting that he's no longer an egomaniacal jerk, recited a poem for Davis about looking at oneself in the mirror for affirmation. Smalley had a self-help show called “Daily Affirmation,” during which he, too, would look into the mirror and say, “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” Manchester truly is a man on some kind of mission.

Don't get me wrong: I don't have any huge problems with the U-T articulating a vision for Downtown and blasting it from Page A1. You know me—I'm all for expressing visions that have no chance of happening. It's the crazy-eyed fervor behind Manchester and Lynch's vision that's got me raising my eyebrow.

What do you think? Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com. Link up with editor David Rolland on Facebook or Twitter.



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