July 5 2006 12:00 AM

This week we add CityBeat's voice to the chorus of critics appalled by the direction development of the Navy Broadway Complex property seems to be heading. We're pleased that the Union-Tribune's editorial board, with whom we often disagree, has taken such a strong stand against the Navy and developer Doug Manchester and in favor of a more public-oriented use of that space. This time, at least, we ideological opposites couldn't agree more.

A condensed bit of background: In 1992, a pact was reached under which the Navy would select a developer to do something with the piece of land that's located near the western end of Broadway fronting San Diego Bay. The property currently holds an ugly Navy administration building and a big parking lot.

The Navy quietly chose hotel developer Manchester, who has agreed in principle to build a new Navy building at no charge in exchange for the right to make money off the remainder of the land. Manchester's team unveiled initial plans earlier this year and has altered it three times in attempts to quell public concerns.

The Navy and Manchester have until the end of the year to reach a final agreement. The project is scheduled to be considered by the Centre City Development Corporation's board of directors later this month, but CCDC President Nancy Graham last week said that thanks to the project's many iterations, a July deadline will be tough to meet.

And that's fine with us. We'd like to see this thing stalled to death.

In its current form, the proposed development comprises seven buildings on 14.7 acres—bordered by Broadway on the north, Pacific Highway on the east and Harbor Drive on the south and west—including a new Navy complex and some combination of hotels, condos, offices, museums, stores and shops. Much of the 4.8 acres' worth of “public” space is sandwiched in between the buildings, plus an afterthought of a park relegated to the northwest corner of the property.

This is not even close to being in the same universe as the right project for this prime waterfront location. As many others have said long before we even considered it, when it comes to this spot, nothing short of a vast public park is acceptable. If there needs to be a complex of shops and housing on the eastern stretch to help pencil the thing out, fine, but it should be fashioned in the form of a public square and dwarfed by the expansive green space in front of it. The property must be designed so that it's integrated with plans for the waterfront embarcadero promenade proposed for the area to the north, amenities such as the Museum of Contemporary Art to the northeast, that ghastly Seaport Village to the south and the U.S.S. Midway, which is docked off the southwest corner of the site.

It should be a place where San Diegans (and visitors, if they must) feel welcome to run, walk, toss a Frisbee, kick a soccer ball, chill on a blanket, have a picnic, listen to music, see temporary outdoor art exhibitions and appreciate permanent cutting-edge public art. San Diego is our town; it's not Doug Manchester's tourist paradise. The multiple high-rise hotels that would dominate his project shows that he cares little for the people of San Diego.

Of course, it's not Manchester's obligation to look out for us. That responsibility rests on the shoulders of city leaders. Under the 14-year-old agreement, the CCDC board of directors, who oversee downtown development on behalf of the City Council, have the first chance to kill this abomination, but our top public officials—ideally led by Mayor Jerry Sanders, City Council President Scott Peters, District 2 City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer and City Attorney Mike Aguirre (perhaps in consultation with state Coastal Commission chief Peter Douglas)—should be strategizing right now. Assuming they don't like this project any more than we do, they should be coming up with a plan to beat this beast down.

Proponents argue that if the Navy/Manchester plan doesn't succeed, any one of numerous military branches and federal agencies could claim the land as part of the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process before the city ever had the chance to buy it. For our part, that argument's a non-starter because we think Manchester's proposal is as bad as-or worse than-anything these other agencies could dream up.

Let's not approve this project simply because it's what was proposed, and because a 14-year-old agreement says we have to. This is our town. Let's take control of it.


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