Plans for San Diego Transportation Center, Navy Complex Redevelopment Moving Ahead

Defense Department Looks To Upgrade Facilities for Busy Cybersecurity Experts

By Lou Hirsh CoStar News

March 25, 2021 | 6:04 P.M.


The U.S. Navy could decide by year’s end on plans for a proposed mixed-use redevelopment of a key cybersecurity research complex in San Diego, including a “Grand Central Station” aimed at providing the first-ever direct public transportation access to the region’s main airport.


Several concepts are being reviewed by the Navy and regional planners, with military officials especially focused on replacing several 1941-vintage former aircraft hangars that once produced B-24 bombers and currently house operations of the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, also known as NAVWAR.


The Navy does a large part of its cybersecurity and related defense technology research and development at the 70-acre complex, which directly employs more than 5,000 people and is located north of downtown San Diego, off Interstate 5.


“As we see in the news every day, the [rise] of adversaries trying to get into our technology and take our ideas, our thoughts and our intelligence away from us happens daily,” said Gregory Geisen, the Navy’s project manager for the planned redevelopment.

“And NAVWAR is a critical node in protecting the defense information that we have, and that’s a strong growth area,” Geisen said Thursday during an online conference presented by the University of San Diego’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate.


The Navy has been in talks with local government leaders for the past two years on a potential redevelopment of the tech research complex. The San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, a regional planning agency, is looking to have the project designed around a central, multimodal transportation facility, compared by some officials to New York City’s iconic Grand Central Station train hub for its planned scope.


Officials are envisioning what could be “potentially the largest transportation hub west of the Mississippi,” said Victoria Stackwick, director of government relations for SANDAG, who is coordinating efforts with the Navy.


Exact costs aren’t yet determined, but the hub is the largest single project among a series of regional infrastructure improvements envisioned by regional planners over the next several years at a total cost of around $166 billion.


Officials said the transit station could connect the mixed-use development with 500 existing miles of track serving the regional light-rail San Diego Trolley system, and also serve users of buses, bikes, cabs and ride-sharing services. A key goal is getting cars off congested roads and giving residents their first-ever direct access to San Diego International Airport via public transit. Boosting affordable housing is also a priority.


The Navy is looking to complete an environmental impact report this spring, gauging traffic and other impacts, which would then be subject to a 60-day public comment period. Based on feedback, the Navy could decide by late 2021 or early 2022 on whether to proceed with one of five preliminary concepts being considered by the Navy and SANDAG.


Four of the concepts include various combinations of apartments, offices and other commercial elements, along with the regional transportation center. While it’s deemed unlikely at this stage of planning, the fifth option includes having the Pentagon fully fund the replacement of the aging Navy complex on its own, without bringing in other types of public or private development.


Based on which concept is chosen, the Navy early next year would put out a request for project qualifications and later proposals from the development community. The selection of a specific project could take another year to 18 months.


“It’s going to be some years yet until we get a move-in date, but it’s talking years and not decades,” Geisen said of the Navy’s facility plans.


Geisen said the Navy is looking to consolidate operations from several older buildings into one vertical office building or complex, where it would likely require about 1 million square feet of space. That would leave the rest of the 70-acre property to be developed with non-military elements.


The Navy is looking in coming years to attract qualified technology talent to NAVWAR, which has a $9.4 billion annual national budget and has been growing its personnel needs by 3% to 7% annually for the past decade, Geisen said.


Capt. Kenneth Franklin, the commanding officer overseeing several Navy facilities in the area, said the current former hangars at the San Diego cybersecurity complex have received patchwork renovations over the decades to accommodate growth needs, with the Navy sometimes having to construct “buildings within a building” to properly house sensitive operations and protect personnel and equipment from weather elements.


Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of SANDAG, said financing details for the transportation center are still to be decided, including how much the general public will be asked to contribute, possibly through a ballot measure for approval of revenue bonds. The project is also likely to qualify for significant funding from state and federal transportation programs.


Stackwick said planners are scouting commercial tenants for the redevelopment. Planners are also discussing ways to connect the Navy redevelopment with park, transportation and other links to the nearby Midway District neighborhood, where developer Brookfield Properties is spearheading an upcoming redevelopment of the San Diego Sports Arena.


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