I like big ideas.
That's why I was excited to read about one in a commentary published last Thursday on the little-known news website SanDiegoNewsRoom.com. The idea was to build a new San Diego City Hall and a new County Administration Building—and perhaps a new regional headquarters for the Navy, a new complex of state-government offices and offices for state and federal elected officials—on the land in Mission Valley where Qualcomm Stadium now sits. This massive government complex would be built around a San Diego River park.
There are likely 853 kadrillion reasons why something like this can't be done, but I don't care; I still like it when people propose grand improvements to the status quo, especially when they involve holistic approaches to the development of public spaces. As we all know, San Diego has been notoriously dreadful when it comes to holistic approaches to the development of public spaces.
I wanted to know who came up with this idea—mostly out of journalistic curiosity, but also so I can talk to her or him about it. But San Diego News Room was purposefully coy about the person's identity. The commentary is credited to “SDNR Staff”; at the end, it asks, “Now that you've read this idea..... who do you think is the author” and follows with a list of 15 prominent public figures.
My assumption is that one of the 15 is the visionary, so I set out to solve the riddle. The smart money was on former state Sen. Steve Peace (who's full of big ideas), Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani (who wants the Chargers Downtown) or developer Perry Dealy (who'd previously proposed a grand redevelopment of the Qualcomm site). But each man told me the idea wasn't his.
Peace hadn't even caught wind of the idea. In e-mails, he responded with comments about his own frustrations trying to get the city and SDSU to work together to turn the Qualcomm site into an expansion of the university. “But,” he wrote, “I don't think anybody at the city or at sdsu is capable of getting along with each other let alone make sense of anything. Just like on airport, city doesn't know how to follow through on anything.” OK then.
In an e-mail, Fabiani reiterated his position that the Qualcomm site has much potential for development. “But the government center at Qualcomm idea is not ours,” he said.
And Dealy? “From a visionary standpoint, I get it,” he said in a phone interview. But there are several problems: The Navy's on track for a new headquarters on the waterfront, and an effort to redevelop City Hall at its current site shouldn't be derailed, he said, adding that a good reason for City Hall to be located Downtown is because it's a “demand generator” for businesses such as law firms.
Spokespeople for Metropolitan Transit System Board Chair Harry Mathis, county Supervisor Greg Cox, Regional Economic Development Corp. CEO Julie Wright, SDSU President Stephen Weber, San Diego Port Tenants Association CEO Sharon Cloward and Port of San Diego Board Chair Dukie Valderrama say the idea didn't come from any of them. Likewise, San Diego City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, conservative think-tank thinker Erik Bruvold, San Diego River Park Foundation Executive Director Rob Hutsel and former mayoral candidate Steve Francis say it wasn't them, either. Bruvold said the city and county lost their opportunity at co-location five to seven years ago, and now the county's engaged a “construction frenzy” in Kearny Mesa. He knows whose idea it was, but he isn't saying who.
The remaining candidates—San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye and San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Vice Chair Vince Mudd—didn't get back to me by press time. I have reason to know that it wasn't Mudd, which leaves Frye, but this kind of thing isn't exactly her style. Methinks someone's fibbing. David King, from San Diego News Room, didn't return an e-mail.
Anyhoo, while I really like this idea—notwithstanding major traffic concerns in Mission Valley—I'm still holding out hope for an idea I wrote about back in the fall of 2008, which is to build a new city hall and a new main library as bookends on either side of a grand public park on the waterfront.
Why, then, am I so interested in knowing who hatched the Qualcomm-site vision?
I just like big ideas.