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What should San Diego do with its sports arena property?

City is offering developers a chance to remake 48 acres of land near the arena in the hopes of revitalizing the Midway District

By Jannifer Van Grove The San Diego Union Tribune

February 7, 2020


The Midway District, home to San Diego’s 54-year-old sports arena and a hodgepodge of retail and industrial buildings, is not a landmark destination. But it could be.


At least that’s the thinking behind the city’s long-held desire to dramatically remake the district, starting with 48 acres it owns around Pechanga Arena San Diego.


The city will officially kick off its neighborhood revitalization effort on Friday with a formal request for redevelopment proposals.


The goal is to entice builders to dream up plans that introduce a mix of entertainment, housing, retail, office and public spaces — and ultimately add character to the Midway District. The successful bidder will need to lease the sports arena site from the city and must keep, restore or rebuild the arena.


“The city is looking for a game-changer in the sports arena area to reactivate and reinvigorate that area,” said Cybele Thompson, who heads the city’s real estate assets division. “Proposers can really do anything (with the property). We didn’t want to limit creativity.”


The relatively blank slate comes courtesy of a recently adopted community plan for the Midway District that encourages a mix of different building types in the region and envisions a community village.


Prospective developers must work within the coastal zone’s 30-foot height limit and will need to craft a specific plan for the site. From the city’s perspective, the timing is right for a Midway District shakeup.


“The opportunity to create a livable, walkable and transit-oriented community in a place like Midway does not come around often. This urban location, with its close proximity to downtown, could become a vital connector to our beach and bay communities while remaining a lively entertainment destination,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, whose district includes the site. “If done correctly, Midway can become an example of how visionary San Diego can be.”


There are six contiguous parcels included in the city’s request for proposals, the largest being the 34 acres occupied by the sports arena and its parking lot. The plots are north of the San Diego International Airport, south of Mission Bay and bounded by Kurtz Street on the north and Sports Arena Boulevard on the south.


Save for a 5-acre retail pad known as Sports Arena Square, the land offered for redevelopment is subject to a handful of leases all set to expire this year.


City officials are in negotiations for a three-year lease for Pechanga Arena San Diego, home to the San Diego Gulls, the San Diego Sockers and other teams.


The 16,000-seat venue, which opened in 1966, hosts about 145 sports and entertainment events, and 650,000 people each year. Kobey’s Swap Meet, a popular outdoor flea market, also operates on the site. The interim agreement is meant to keep business running as usual until the redevelopment plan is ready to go.


“This area needs a huge infusion of capital and creativity. And the sports arena, I think, is the key to (revitalization),” said real estate analyst Gary London, who is a principal of local firm London Moeder Advisors. “It’s large, it’s imposing and because of that, if redeveloped correctly, it can serve as an anchor to redefine the entire area.”


London cautioned, however, that developers may balk at the financial uncertainty associated with the property because of its no-man’s-land location.


“Popping up properties in the middle of all that junk (in the Midway District) is hugely risky for any developer,” he said. “The big risk is that you’d be pioneering, creating a market all by yourself.”


Bidders have until June 8 to submit proposals, which must include a detailed concept narrative, site plan and renderings. The city plans to host an open house July 21-22 to allow the public to view submissions.


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