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Gafcon’s San Diego bayfront plan seems to please tuna fishermen

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After months of behind-the-scenes bickering and horse trading between San Diego’s commercial fishing fleet and a developer tapped by the Port of San Diego to revamp a large portion of a large section of San Diego Bay, the sides appear to have reached a détente.

Kip Howard, spokesman for Seaport (the new project): “Obviously we could be making a lot more money hosting these big recreational boats than commercial fishing.”

Last June, the Port unveiled a host of proposals for the redevelopment of 30 acres of land and 40 acres of water along downtown’s bayfront, including Seaport Village and Tuna Harbor, home to more than half of the region’s commercial fishing boats and a popular dockside fishermen’s market. At the time, fishermen promised stiff resistance before the California Coastal Commission and other regulatory bodies against any proposal that threatened their ability to remain docked at Tuna Harbor.

Tuna Harbor parking lot. Rafael Castellanos from the Port: “Much of the infrastructure that’s in place is reaching the end of its useful life.”

Local developer Gafcon eventually got the nod to proceed with the redevelopment project, which will be named Seaport. The group was one of the fleet’s preferred options as it promoted improvements to the harbor that would largely leave fishing interests in control. Still, many remained wary of what they feared was lip service being paid to the industry that has been beset by challenges for more than a half-century, leading to a sharp decline in a San Diego fishery once known as the “tuna capital of the world.”

“Fishermen have never asked for anything more [on the waterfront],” Kelly Fukushima, captain of the vessel Three Boys, told a crowd assembled for a Tuna Harbor update organized by the San Diego Food System Alliance on Thursday (April 13). “All they’ve been able to do is constantly fight to keep what little that we have.”

For its part, Gafcon has not escaped controversy in previous endeavors. Development of Irvine’s Great Park, which the city hoped would become a landmark rivaling Balboa Park or New York’s Central Park, faced an audit of the project that found after spending $200 million between 2005 and 2012, the park fell far short of expectations and the project was plagued by mismanagement and irresponsible spending. The company fought the charges, accusing the report of being a politically motivated hit job. They launched their own promotional website to combat the claims, and convinced local state assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher to push for a state investigation of the audit, which itself concluded that the city had overspent and mismanaged the audit.

Kip Howard, president of Allegis Development, spoke as the representative of Seaport.

“Tuna Harbor is the part of the project that we’ve been focusing the most on to date,” Howard told the group, noting that eleven meetings regarding site design had already been held between developers and fishery representatives.

“Fishing will be one of the most important aspects of the Seaport project,” Howard continued. “We’re committed to revitalizing the industry, and to celebrating the history and heritage of it.”

Still, Tuna Harbor is a relatively small factor in the development, which includes 280,000 square feet of retail space, massive underground parking structures, three hotels, a commercial aquarium, and a 45-story observation tower where, for a price, visitors will get a bird’s-eye view of the bayfront.

The Port sent the vice chair of its board of commissioners, Rafael Castellanos, to echo support for the fishermen and cheer the expected cash influx from super-sizing the site.

“We want to do everything we can to support the industry, but we have challenges,” Castellanos told the group. “Much of the infrastructure that’s in place, which we’ve spent about $1.7 billion building since the inception of the Port, is reaching the end of its useful life. We have tens of millions of dollars in capital improvements and repairs that need to be made.”

“What’s exciting about the Seaport project is the opportunity to bring in money – lots and lots of money.”

That money, Fukushima says, will go a long way toward improving the efficiency of the existing fleet and making way for future growth in the fishery. Dock repairs, improved offloading, storage, and equipment repair facilities, and a permanent home for the dockside market to operate daily (Saturday mornings are the only time locals can currently purchase off-the-boat fresh catch) were at the top of the needs list.

“I think all of us, as fishermen, spend more time working on our boats and getting ready to go fishing than actually fishing. That’s one of the reasons having upgraded facilities will help the industry significantly,” Fukushima said. “Each one of these boats is an independent, family-owned small business that produces a year-round supply of local, sustainable seafood.”

“San Diego is home to the most diverse fishing fleet on the entire west coast,” he continued. “We have offshore boats targeting tuna, opah, and swordfish. Coastal seiners fish squid, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. Net boats target white sea bass, halibut, shark, while dive boats harvest sea urchin and sea cucumber. That’s not to mention trap fishermen who go after California spiny lobster, and other species.”

One serious point of contention that Seaport officials have since dropped was a plan to bring recreational boats including massive personal craft into the harbor. While pleasure craft anchorage could be lucrative for the developer, working boat captains worry about disruptions to their business and complaints about noise, odor, and other facts of life that surround a working waterfront.

“I realize that mega-yachts and water taxis and things like that bring in an incredible amount of revenue, but I see individuals in this room who’ve fed over a million people over their careers. How do you put a dollar value on that?” Fukushima asked, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Howard, meanwhile, acknowledged his group was ready to make a concession on that point, sharing a presentation slide that showed a revamped harbor design with pleasure craft conspicuously absent.

“That was a big give – obviously we could be making a lot more money hosting these big recreational boats than commercial fishing,” Howard admitted.

While the redevelopment plan is still years from fruition (Seaport Village doesn’t lose its lease on the site until 2018 and Driscoll’s Wharf, a second home for the commercial fleet that figures into overall improvement plans, is in the hands of Tom Driscoll through 2022) Howard indicated that, granted approval from the Port, Coastal Commission, and other regulatory bodies, some of the Tuna Harbor improvements could begin sooner, perhaps as early as next year.

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Giant Ferris Wheels Proposed on Bay

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Port should delay review until master plan is complete, chairman says


Allegis receives Honorable Mention

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Allegis Development Services received an Honorable Mention for the 2013 San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Small Business Awards on June 17, 20142014Honorable.

 


Allegis project featured in San Diego Business Journal

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SAN DIEGO BUSINESS JOURNAL

Chargers’ Option Play Not in City’s Game Plan
Sport: Team’s Proposal Ties Convention Center to Stadium

By Lou Hirsh

San Diego, September 16, 2013 (www.sdbj.com) – With the California Coastal Commission set to review the proposed $520 million expansion of the city’s convention center, the San Diego Chargers wan to change the playbook for boosting the region’s capability to host big events.

The Chargers, in a letter to the coastal panel, hae called for an alternative plan that would put a multiple-use facility in East Village, east of Petco Park, and combine event spaces with a new stadium for the Chargers.  The team envisions a project that would cost about $1.2 billion, targeting the site where it previously put forward a stadium-only proposal.

Such a move is vehemently opposed by expansion backers, including city officials and two prominent local business groups, who don’t want the long-delayed center expansion weighed down by the challenges of garnering public approval for investing in a football stadium.

Chargers representatives contend the city has not sufficiently considered alternatives for increasing conference space that are not directly contiguous to the waterfront convention center.  The team, which has not released any conceptual renderings, envisions a pedestrian- and transit-friendly complex that could also help the city snag major political conventions, concerts, Super Bowls and NCAA Final Four basketball games.  The team’s venue design consultant suggested a “flexible building” with a movable roof and seating to accommodate outdoor sports and indoor trade shows.

The convention center expansion plan, in the works for the past several years, has been approved by the Unified Port of San Diego, the City Council and local hoteliers.  San Diego hotels would foot the bulk of project costs through fees assessed on room bills.  The plan calls for adding about 220,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, 101,000 square feet of meeting rooms and 78,000 square feet of ballroom space.  The project also includes a rooftop park and plaza, retail areas and a relocated water transportation center.

The Coastal Commission, which has final say on waterfront projects, is expected to review the expansion proposal at its next three-day session in San Diego, scheduled for Oct. 9-11.  The Chargers have asked the coastal panel to consider its alternative, which the team contends would work better from an environmental and business standpoint.

“Indeed, from a development perspective the plan before the commission fails to capitalize on San Diego’s greatest assets and literally cuts the downtown off from its waterfront,” Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani said in an Aug. 30 letter to the coastal panel.  “We believe this is both unnecessary and an inferior development choice.”

Comic-Con Being Courted

The lobbying of the coastal panel drew an immediate and unified response from San Diego city and business group leaders, who deem the project as submitted crucial to serving large national groups currently bypassing the local market in favor of bigger venues for their conventions.

“This plan is the result of an exhaustive process that has included input from countless stakeholders, most importantly the public,” said Todd Gloria, San Diego’s interim mayor, adding that there is an “overwhelming consensus” that the expansion is the best way to create jobs and other economic benefits fort the region.  “As it currently stands, our convention center is forced to turn away a year’s worth of business annually because there simply isn’t enough capacity.”

Gloria’s views were backed by the San Diego REgional chamber of Commerce, whose CEO is former mayor Jerry Sanders, and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., led by CEO Mark Cafferty, who called the existing expansion plan “a top priority for San Deigo’s business community.”

Sanders said expansion represents as many as 11,000 new jobs for the region, including 7,000 permanent jobs, based on studies done by consultants during his mayoral term.

In a statement issued by Gloria’s office, Comic-Con International organizers also weighed in on the matter.  Spokesman David Glanzer said the proposed expansion would help the facility secure larger conventions and give it the ability to host several smaller concurrent events to benefit the local economy.

Comic-Con has been in San Diego since its debut in 1970 and now draws 130,000 visitors to the convention center over three days each summer.  Comic-Con has committed to San Diego through 2016, but organizers have been lobbied in recent years by several cities looking to steal it away, including Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Hotel Expansion In Balance

Next door to the convention center, contingent on the expansion project proceeding as proposed, the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel has received approvals for a privately financed, $200 million expansion that would add a second tower with 500 rooms, along with meeting spaces to be built atop an existing parking structure.  The expansion would bring the Hilton’s room count to 1,690 — the most in San Diego County.

The Hilton project is being overseen by locally based Allegis Development Services Inc.  Construction of the hotel expansion would begin about six to eight months after the start of the convention center project, so the two facilities can open simultaneously, Allegis founder and President Kipland Howard said.  However, a hotel expansion of that magnitude would likely not happen anytime soon under the scenario put forth in the Chargers’ proposal.

“It probably would not make the same sense to build 500 new hotel rooms at once if an expansion of convention space takes place eight blocks away,” said Howard, noting the symbiotic relationship between the center and its closest large hotels.

Favoring Further Review

In a phone interview, Fabiani said the Coastal Commission is unlikely to give a formal review to the Chargers’ plan at its October meeting, but the team is hoping that the concerns it raises will spur the panel to send the project back to local officials for further review.

The team has been discussing financing options with Colony Capital LLC of Santa Monica, a private investment firm, and design options with sports-venue consulting firm Populous.  Both companies also submitted letters to the coastal panel, asking it to consider a multi-use facility.

Fabiani said the $1.2 billion cost of its proposal could be financed with a contribution of $400 million from the Chargers and the National Football League, and $600 million that otherwise would have gone to the convention center expansion.  Remaining construction and operating expenses could be supported by the sale or lease of the city-owned Qualcomm Stadium and Sports Arena sites.

While the convention center backers have targeted an opening for the expansion in late 2016 or early 2017, the start of construction will be impacted by the results of two pending private lawsuits challenging the financing mechanism on the grounds that it was not approved by voters.

The team would likely favor a public vote on the hotel room assessments contained in the current convention center financing plan, Fabiani said.


Allegis receives Honorable Mention

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Allegis Development Services received an Honorable Mention for the 2013 San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Small Business Awards on June 25.

Small Business Awards

 


Labor Drops Opposition to Convention Center

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Organized labor has dropped its opposition to the planned expansion of the San Diego Convention Center after winning a number of concessions aimed at protecting workers, ensuring local hiring and guaranteeing defined benefits.

The agreement to support the expansion, announced by Mayor Jerry Sanders, removes a major hurdle that threatened to derail the $520 million project.

Read the full article here: LA Times.