In the triangle of tension formed by the main groups battling over redevelopment of the Navy Broadway Complex, developer Doug Manchester and his nemesis, the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition (NBCC), seem to get all the attention. Rarely heard from, though, is the Navy, which is ironic because the military branch is the actual owner of the bayside land, and it's the Navy that gets a brand-new headquarters if Manchester ever winds up building the project. Word on the street is that with credit so tight, Manchester is having trouble getting funding, but there's also the ongoing litigation from NBCC.
But where does that leave the Navy? Nowhere, that's where. Rear Adm. Leendert “Len” Hering, commander of Navy Region Southwest, was one of the key players in getting the project going in 2004 after a decade of neglect. In August, he'll complete a four-year tenure during which the land was saved from the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) in 2005, Manchester was selected as the primary developer and a 99-year lease with him was signed. But as Hering prepares to make the transition from tall, imposing Naval commander to tall, imposing San Diego citizen, he's seizing the opportunity to say a few things he probably wishes he could have been saying all along.
Last week, the San Diego Military Advisory Council, a nonprofit association of defense contractors and local military leaders, threw Hering a farewell breakfast. Hering used the occasion to wax eloquent on the Navy's need to renovate its infrastructure—he said 35 percent of the buildings he manages were constructed as temporary shelters during World War II. And then he got to the Navy Broadway Complex.
“Part of my swan song is I'm very disappointed that we have not broken ground at Broadway,” he said. “And I think it's an incredible shame that a few individuals have prevented what could be a world-class opportunity for San Diego and a world-class opportunity for the headquarters of Navy Region Southwest to move into the 21st century and support the war fighter in the way they're supposed to.”
Hering is passionate on this issue—when he spoke those words about “a few individuals,” he seemed to choke up, at least a little.
But members of NBCC remain unmoved.
“Why should I be?” said Ian Trowbridge, a leader in the group and also a 2010 candidate for City Council. “Hering is wrong when he claims that only a few people are interested in producing a world-class shoreline Downtown. As he retires, this should be a major issue that he should regret not handling in a more appropriate manner.”
Trowbridge accuses Hering of negotiating with Manchester in secret and not releasing the full details of the Manchester lease. He also thinks Hering has insulted Rep. Susan Davis, who has said she would prefer to see a new Navy headquarters in some other location.
But Hering, in his speech, argued that the issue demonstrates how America—including, on this issue, the Navy high command in Washington—treats its warriors badly.
“We have the opportunity to show the sailors that we are serious about them as individuals,” Hering said. “We can say to them, ‘You are more than just an asset; you are important. And we want you to know how important you are.'”