Article Via - San Diego Union Tribune
Five development teams are promising dramatic, neighborhood-altering facelifts to the acres of asphalt and rundown storefronts on the city sports arena site in the Midway District.
They are battling each other to win a long-term ground lease for the parcels at 3500, 3250, 3220 and 3240 Sports Arena Blvd in the Midway District. The property includes San Diego’s sports arena, which was built in 1966 and has served as the long-time home of the San Diego Gulls.
The development potential of the land — so long as the city can lift the neighborhood’s 30-foot building height restriction — has been characterized by city officials and bidders as a once-in-generation opportunity. It’s a rare chance to erect thousands of homes in a single place, all while permanently reshaping the character of a part of town best known for its traffic, supersized streets and strip clubs, as opposed to its proximity to the San Diego River and adjacent urban centers.
The city’s current process is following, by the book, California’s prescribed method for disposing of what’s considered surplus land. To qualify for the competition, each team had to designate at least 25 percent of their planned housing units as affordable,
meaning deed-restricted for families making 80 percent or less of the area median income, or AMI. Currently, the median income for a family of four in San Diego is $95,100.
The applicants are now participating in a 90-day negotiation period that ends on March 4. The end date marks the beginning of a public evaluation process that will start with the City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee.
“The city has met with all five teams ... and we have given them a list of questions to respond to so that we have a true apples-to-apples approach,” said Penny Maus, who runs the city’s Department of Real Estate and Airport Management. “We will not eliminate any team before we present all five responses to the Land Use and Housing Committee and City Council. We may recommend shortlisting at that time, but we will not be cutting anybody loose before then.”
Although some of the applicants initially submitted proposals with multiple development scenarios, the city has since requested that the teams narrow their bids to a single plan.
Real estate developer Brookfield Properties, whose parent company Brookfield Asset Management has $650 billion in assets, and partners are proposing to line the city’s 48-acre site with a total of 3,277 total housing units that work to engender a dynamic community where ample office and retail space also connect to an entertainment district with local flavor.
Although the Discover Midway proposal calls for renovation of the existing arena, the team’s arena partner, ASM Global, is promising to deliver a brand-new experience that rivals what’s offered at premier venues across the country. The refresh will include an expanded concourse with an articulated roof that extends up to 20 feet from the base structure and allows for new dining options available both on and off game days.
Affordable housing builders, Affirmed Housing and National Community Renaissance (National CORE), are taking the lead on the development team’s subsidized housing component. The group envisions erecting the rent-restricted units, 32 percent of the total stock, in mid-rise towers for people — families, seniors and veterans — making less than 60 percent of the area median income.
“The Discover Midway team provides the city of San Diego with a partner that has the track record, expertise and resources to deliver a reimagined Midway District that reflects the authenticity of our home,” said Jessica Jones, who is a senior director at Brookfield Properties and is based in San Diego. “Our team thrives in creating vibrant and lasting places to work, live and play, and know that alongside our community, we can address our region’s most pressing needs, with an eye to the future.”
Developers Monarch Group and Essex Property Trust are working with affordable housing builder Eden Housing and sports real estate firm JMI Sports on a plan that features 3,250 apartment homes, a downsized sports arena, a 300-room hotel, 155,000 square feet of commercial office and retail space, and 18 acres of green space spread across parks and
HomeTownSD, more so than the other submissions, is heavy on creating housing for San Diego’s lower-income families. The plan calls for half of all housing units, or 1,625 apartments, to be affordable, meaning deed-restricted for families making less than 80 percent of the area median income. Another 12.5 percent of the units, or 406 units, are being set aside for middle-income families making up to 120 percent of the area median income. All units will be concentrated west of the new arena and will open onto either a large plaza that doubles as an outdoor marketplace or a community park.
“From our standpoint, we’re leading the way on the number of affordable and middle-income housing units here — 62.5 percent of our proposed apartment homes are for low- and middle-income San Diego families,” said Sarah Kruer Jager, who is a partner with San Diego-based Monarch Group and is the project lead. “We’ve been really thoughtful about how we thread that needle to deliver on housing in a very bold, responsible way and also creating this world-class entertainment district.”
The team is also distinct when it comes to its arena vision. It’s pitching a 10,000-capacity venue pushed to the eastern side of the property that it thinks is better suited for the site and the existing arena’s current tenants. Arena partner JMI Sports believes the smaller facility can still be first-rate and draw top touring artists.
Encinitas-based Zephyr Partners is teamed with sports-and-entertainment venue operator Legends and affordable-housing builder Chelsea Investment Corp. on a proposal that calls for 4,000 housing units, 20 acres of parks and public space, and a new arena.
The Midway Rising vision, as designed by project architect Safdie Rabines, includes a privately financed 15,000- to 16,000-seat arena on the eastern edge of the property that should serve as a calling card for the city. It will connect to a 3.9-acre urban public square, called “The Zocalo,” which will feature year-round arts and culture events, display games and concerts on the arena’s exterior video board, and provide access to surrounding restaurants, shops and the adjacent, 200-room hotel.
On the western side, a mix of apartments, including at least 1,200 rent-restricted units, are spread across mid-rise towers that open onto a central paseo. And a series of rooftop parks and elevated walkways are meant to connect people to the sports complex.
“Midway Rising stands out as the local San Diego team with the experience to get this critical project done and truly lift up the entire Midway District,” said Samantha Keitt, who is a spokesperson for the team. “All our partners are local to San Diego and have delivered affordable housing and community improvements throughout our region.”
Luxury housing builder Toll Brothers is partnered with affordable housing builder Bridge Housing and private equity investor Revitate on a plan that calls for a total of 2,406 housing units, with 50 percent of units set aside for low-income and middle-income families. The team envisions creating a cohesive neighborhood with buildings of varying size, shape and style, all surrounding a 12-acre central park complete with a stream.
Midway Village+ is big on sports and entertainment options. In addition to erecting a new, 15,000-seat arena on the western side of the city’s available parcels, the group is pitching a 3,500-seat event hall adjacent to the arena that would host up to 200 events a year. The proposal also calls for a 12,000-seat modular soccer stadium for the San Diego Loyal soccer team and other community events.
On a 17-acre, city-owned parcel west of the land currently offered leased, the development team would like to build — if given the option — a larger, permanent home for the Loyal and another 1,000 housing units.
The Midway Village+ vision is not only emblematic of San Diego’s best attributes but is also grounded in financial reality, said David Malmuth, a San Diego-based development consultant and Midway Village+ project executive.
“This will be a big, tough, challenging private-public partnership. We understand that, because we’ve done it before,” he said. “It takes grit, expertise, creativity, patience, and above all, financial wherewithal — especially at the early stages of the project. Not everyone has the stomach, or the deep pockets, to pull that off.”
ConAm Group, a 47-year-old housing developer that’s built more than 16,000 units in the U.S., is pitching a city-within-city, modeled after Little Italy, where scores of apartment buildings with ground-level retail spaces produce a wealth of street-level activity.
Called Neighborhood Next, the plan is the most ambitious of the bunch when it comes to housing. The San Diego-based team — ConAm is partnered with Malick Infill Development and affordable-housing builders Community Housing Works and Wakeland Housing & Development Corp. — wants to construct 5,400 units in buildings of varying height and design, where pocket parks and open spaces feed into a GreenLine Promenade that extends the length of the project and transports people from the property’s eastern edge to the San Diego River.
At least 25 percent of units, or 1,350 apartment homes, will be set aside for families making less than 80 percent of the area median income.
Although the proposed housing density is uncommon outside of downtown San Diego, Neighborhood Next believes the European-inspired model is not only appropriate for the Midway District parcels but much needed in a town where creating more supply is a top priority for city leaders. The homes are meant to work in concert with 300,000 feet square feet of commercial retail and office space, a dedicated community building that could house a school or library, and a 125-room hotel.
The group does not have an arena developer attached to its plan, but it is working with Crossroads Consulting and has narrowed its proposal to a single scenario that calls for a full renovation of the existing, 16,000-seat arena.
“Neighborhood Next is designed by some of the world’s best planners as a blueprint for a future San Diego where housing is attainable and we live more sustainably,” said Zach Adams, who is senior vice president of development with The ConAm Group. “It includes big, new ideas about things that matter, like solving the housing crisis, taking bold climate action, encouraging transit ridership, delivering an inspiring arena and creating more opportunities for San Diegans to afford to live in this great city.”
-Jennifer Van Grove
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