May 14 2014 09:12 AM

Once again, let's get control of the Navy Broadway Complex property

Waterfront Park
The county’s Waterfront Park
Photo by Jeff Hammett

Nearly six years ago (holy cow!), we published a piece in this space under the headline "Big dreams." The big thing being dreamed was a grand public park bookended by a new San Diego City Hall and new central library on the property now known as the Navy Broadway Complex, south of Broadway and between Pacific Highway and Harbor Drive.

We're reminded of that commentary by the truly outstanding new San Diego County Waterfront Park that opened to the public this past weekend. The park surrounds the stately County Administration Center with lawns, landscaping and fountains that kids are encouraged to enter and splash around in. There's also a playground equipped with slides and modern swings and structures for wee people to climb on.

Leave it to children to exploit a design flaw: If you encourage them to play with the fountains, they will. All weekend long, they sat and stood on the arcing jets and joyfully diverted the water every which way, causing flooding serious enough that the water had to be turned off on Monday. But we assume that problem can be easily solved. And for the purposes of this editorial, we won't get into how the water feature and the vast lawn fit into San Diego's drought conditions.

The point here is, San Diego finally has something to be proud of along its Downtown waterfront, which is otherwise an embarrassing expanse of missed opportunities. Happily, the so-called North Embarcadero Visionary Plan will further beautify the waterfront. Phase 1, with an expanded esplanade, new pavilions and jacaranda groves and a spruced-up west end of Broadway, will be fully done by fall. We can debate the design details endlessly, but it'll be a lot better than the horrendous status quo.

All we need to complete the facelift is to regain public control of the Navy Broadway Complex property.

The U.S. Navy has gotten away with handing the land over to developer and U-T San Diego publisher Doug Manchester, even though the Navy basically got the land from the public so that it could be used for Naval purposes. Under the deal, Manchester would build the Navy a new headquarters in exchange for the right to develop hotel, office and retail space on the rest of the property.

The California Coastal Commission has sued the Navy and Manchester, asking a judge force the Navy to submit documents assuring compliance with state coastal laws amid a Downtown landscape that has changed significantly since the Navy first won approval for its redevelopment plan in 1991. The Navy Broadway Complex Coalition (NBCC), an activist group opposed to the development, has filed an appeal of a federal-court ruling against its claim that the plan is inadequate when it comes to defending against terrorism.

Manchester got his deal with the Navy in 2006, so it's already been eight years, and it's unclear when the legal fisticuffs will end. Cory Briggs, the attorney representing NBCC, says he doesn't yet have a date for oral arguments and doesn't know if it'll be this year. If it ever does end, there's no guarantee that Manchester will have the financing to make the project happen.

For our part, we're hoping that Manchester and the Navy see no end to the challenges and decide to scuttle the whole thing and write it off as just a bad idea from the get-go. Then, the Navy and the city of San Diego can get together and draw up something new. Maybe it would involve a new Navy headquarters, but it would be better to find a home for the Navy elsewhere and dedicate the whole Broadway property for public use.

Since we published our commentary in 2008, the city built a new central library in East Village, so that idea is moot. But we still need a new City Hall to replace the one that's falling apart on C Street, and we still think the waterfront would be a great place for it—as long as it's surrounded by a magnificent, world-class park and other public amenities.

At least now, with the county's Waterfront Park, we have a glimpse of what's possible.

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