What should happen to San Diego’s sports arena district?
Proposals vary on the number of housing units, building heights, amount of park space, and whether to renovate arena
Rival developers are proposing contrasting visions for the future of San Diego’s 48-acre sports arena property, a blighted area that city officials hope to transform into a thriving entertainment district with dense housing projects.
Two comprehensive proposals unveiled Friday morning differ in the amount of housing they envision, how tall the buildings would be, plans for renovating the arena and how much public park space they would provide.
The proposals are available for virtual tours and public feedback through July 20 at https://sportsarenainput.org.
A city “selection committee” will choose one of the proposals in coming weeks based on public feedback and some other criteria, such as the experience of the developers and their financial capabilities.
After proposals are opened Friday, the public will have 11 days to evaluate plans, submit feedback to guide the city’s choice
Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s staff would then negotiate a comprehensive lease and development agreement with the winning developer.
The rival development teams are led by Brookfield Properties, which has been developing housing projects in San Diego for many years, and Toll Brothers, one of the largest developers of luxury homes in the nation.
Brookfield is partnering on the project with ASM Global, a sports and entertainment company that has developed popular districts like LA Live and the O2 in London.
Toll Brothers is partnering with David Malmuth Development, subsidized housing specialist Bridge Housing and the San Diego Loyal, a soccer management company.
The Toll Brothers proposal is focused more on outdoor recreation and includes a much longer list of amenities than the Brookfield plan.
It would feature a 12-acre public park, a 12,000-seat modular soccer stadium, a 3,500-seat music venue, a hotel and a large fitness building. The proposal envisions spending $125 million to renovate the 54-year-old sports arena.
It also would include 1,400 housing units, 185,000 square feet of office buildings and 106,500 square feet of retail space.
The Brookfield proposal includes 5 acres of public parks, 2,100 housing units and 590,000 square feet of retail space. The plan doesn’t include office buildings, a hotel or additional entertainment venues beyond the sports arena.
Brookfield’s proposal doesn’t include a significant renovation of the arena, which has remained one of the most booked venues in the world despite its age and lack of some modern features.
The Toll Brothers plan creates room for its added features by proposing 700 fewer housing units than Brookfield and envisioning them as part of buildings 85 to 90 feet in height, compared to the 65-foot-tall buildings Brookfield is proposing.
A proposed November ballot measure would lift the city’s coastal 30-foot height limit for the sports arena site and 850 adjacent acres, known as the Midway District.
Council committee endorses proposed November measure, which would pave way for dense housing
Both proposals envision voters approving that ballot measure, which only needs support from a simple majority of voters to pass.
Each plan designates 10 percent of its housing units as subsidized for people with low incomes.
David Malmuth, part of the Toll Brothers team, said his group focused on amenities that fit the local culture in its proposal, which they call the Midway Sports and Entertainment District.
“It really starts with a concept that is singularly San Diego,” he said this week. “We wanted to make a place that creates a platform for the things we love most about this city and this region, and one of these is this outdoor lifestyle — the love of being healthy and eating right and being active.”
Chase Martin of Brookfield said people evaluating the rival proposals should focus on his company’s holistic approach to developing communities and mixed-use districts.
“Each building has to talk to one another,” Martin said this week. “I would look at the sum of the parts, not the individual elements.”
Martin also stressed the credibility and track record of Brookfield and ASM Global, which is a subsidiary of AEG Entertainment.
“Our ability to effectuate the development is an important part of this that is worth mentioning,” said Martin, adding that his team’s vision for the site would evolve over time in response to market demands.
Zach Adams of Brookfield stressed that his team’s proposal fits with a new development blueprint for the Midway District that the City Council approved in 2018.
“It’s really a broader district that ties into the community vision,” he said. “This is a big concrete gap in the city.”
Chuck Steedman of ASM Global said the team doesn’t plan significant renovations to the arena, which ASM has been operating for the last eight years, because it’s still a top draw for concerts and the home of several local sports teams.
The existing arena with a newly vibrant area around it would be a viable entertainment district, he said.
“Our goal is to have a revitalized, modernized amazing entertainment option for San Diegans,” Steedman said.
The Toll Brothers team plans $125 million in renovations to the arena but does not plan to tear it down or shift its footprint.
“We think there is a lot of memory there — there is history there we’d like to hold onto,” Malmuth said of the arena. “Clearly the existing facility is in need of a lot of love, but we think a $125 million renovation is a smarter way to create a new amenity for the teams and the city than to knock it down and build a new one.”
The renovations are part of $221 million in upgrades that the Toll Brothers team proposes. The rest of the money would cover an 1,800-space parking garage, the 12-acre park and other public improvements.
The $221 million would come from $37 million in naming rights for the renovated arena, development impact fees and revenue from parking and a $3 ticket surcharge that would apply to the arena, the music venue and the soccer stadium.
The soccer stadium would be a temporary structure that the San Diego Loyal would plan to use for seven to 10 years. The team would then move into a more permanent stadium elsewhere in the city.
“These are erector-set type projects that can be removed,” said the Loyal’s Warren Smith.
Michael McCann of Toll Brothers said his company views the project as potentially its first San Diego foothold for the apartment side of its business.
“It’s the community, it’s the place, it’s the transportation and the entertainment aspects,” he said. “This environment will be incredibly special with the multiple uses and the open space.”
Four developers submitted development plans for the site before a June 8 deadline the city included in its request for proposals. But city officials deemed two of the proposals “not responsive.”
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