Former visitor center on Mission Bay to become restaurant


The shuttered visitor center on Mission Bay that for decades welcomed tourists and locals will be transformed into a waterfront restaurant and event center that will preserve the seashell-shaped building’s distinctive profile.

Earlier this month, the San Diego City Council gave its blessing to a new long-term lease with a San Diego development team to redevelop a 2.6-acre city-owned site on East Mission Bay Drive near the Clairemont Drive freeway off ramp. While the 4,600-square-foot building will primarily function as a casual, counter-service eatery, the redeveloped area will also offer outdoor seating, a children’s play area, public information services, and beach and bike rentals.

The redevelopment is a long time coming, following two earlier failed efforts, starting in 2011, to attract capable developers willing to remake the prime bay-view locale.

The proposed $3 million project, known as Shoreline Mission Bay, will be undertaken by a relatively new hospitality firm, San Diego-based Playground Concepts. It was among six firms that responded to a 2015 city solicitation for proposals.

Envisioned is a “vibrant, architecturally-significant hub for waterfront dining,” states a report prepared by the city’s Real Estate Assets department.
Under the terms of a 25-year lease negotiated with Playground, the city can expect revenues of more than $7.2 million over the term of the agreement, after taking into account a $450,000 rent credit to help cover the cost of public improvements.

Yearly lease payments, which will be tied to varying percentages of food and beverage sales and other commercial activities, will start out at $230,000, gradually escalating to nearly $415,000 by year 20.

Playground Concepts, which hopes to complete the development within the next 12 to 18 months, is a collaboration of a local husband-and-wife boutique design firm and restaurateur Greg Van de Velde, a partner in the downtown Bottega Americana restaurant and former general manager of Mister A’s.

Kristine Schnell, creative director of Playground, said she and her husband were drawn to the project not only because of its unique architectural design but also its prime location in Mission Bay Park.

“My husband and I spent many days walking our dog by the site, we thought it was a cool building, a great area and it was a shame to see it sitting empty,” she said. “So we came to Greg with this crazy idea of doing a project there, and he has experience in the restaurant business.”

What appealed to Van de Velde, he said, was the rare opportunity to develop a dining venue so close to the waterfront.

To read more about the history of this bayfront space, find the full story at