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San Diego narrows field to five contenders in battle for sports arena site

San Diego’s sports arena property includes the 16,000-seat arena, which opened in 1966.
San Diego’s sports arena property includes the 16,000-seat arena, which opened in 1966 and has served as the longtime home of the San Diego Gulls hockey team.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The city has entered a 90-day negotiation period with the remaining teams vying for a long-term ground lease for 48 acres in the Midway District.

San Diego is moving forward with five of the seven teams that submitted bids to lease — and completely redo — the 48 acres of city-owned land around the sports arena in the Midway District.

The city said Dec. 9 that it will enter negotiations with development teams Discover Midway, Midway Village+, Midway Rising, HomeTownSD and Neighborhood Next. Proposals from the Panacea Group and Cotterkey Investments were deemed not responsive and have been eliminated from the field.

Teams are vying to win a long-term ground lease for the city’s real estate holdings at 3500, 3250, 3220 and 3240 Sports Arena Blvd.

The property includes San Diego’s sports arena, which was built in 1966 and has served as the longtime home of the San Diego Gulls hockey team. Bidders were instructed to submit site redevelopment plans with a new or improved sports arena and to set aside at least 25 percent of proposed housing units for lower-income families.

“This project will bring much-needed affordable housing for San Diegans and will serve as a catalyst for revitalizing a neighborhood that has waited years for transformation,” Mayor Todd Gloria said in a statement. “With multiple responses to consider, we have confidence that this process will result in a success for the Midway community and for our entire city.”

The qualified applicants are participating in a 90-day negotiation period that ends March 4. The end date, however, is just the starting point for a selection process that likely will include community input and City Council feedback, as well as require additional months of back-and-forth to hammer out lease terms.

The city said in a news release that it will use the negotiation period to “garner the greatest return to the community.”

The current disposition process is the city’s second attempt to lease out the land, with local leaders this time strictly following the state’s new rulebook for leasing or selling surplus land. That’s because San Diego had to abort the original solicitation process after the California Department of Housing and Community Development notified local leaders that the city was operating outside the lines of the Surplus Land Act.

The law, which dates to the 1980s and was amended in 2019, requires local agencies to give priority to affordable-housing builders when disposing of their excess land or risk hefty fines.

In San Diego’s second go-around, qualified applicants are proposing dense, master-planned communities with housing, retail, office, park space and, in some instances, additional sports facilities or hotels. Each team is tackling the affordable housing and arena components in different ways, but all envision building a destination neighborhood for families at various income levels.

Bidders also are aligned in drafting visions including buildings that would tower over the Midway District’s 30-foot height limit. San Diego voters last year struck down that restriction in approving Measure E. But in a legal challenge from the group Save Our Access, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal issued a tentative ruling Dec. 2 agreeing with the group that the city should be barred from implementing Measure E. She wrote that the city should have studied the environmental impacts of taller buildings before placing the measure on the November 2020 ballot.

Measure E would pave the way for buildings taller than 30 feet in the 1,324-acre Midway-Pacific Highway Community Plan area between the San Diego River and the San Diego airport, including the city’s sports arena holdings.

The five bidders for the land around the sports arena are led by a who’s-who list of luxury homebuilders, affordable-housing developers and sports venue specialists.

Here is a look at four of the proposals:

Discover Midway

Discover Midway arena rendering
The Discover Midway plan is anchored by a renovated sports arena with an articulated roof inspired by waves, wings and sails, as seen in this rendering.
(Courtesy of Discover Midway)

The Discover Midway consortium includes Brookfield Properties, existing arena operator ASM Global and affordable-housing builders Affirmed Housing and National Community Renaissance, or National CORE.

The proposal calls for 3,280 apartment homes in midrise towers lining the periphery of the 48-acre property. Between 820 and 1,050 housing units would be set aside for people making less than 60 percent of the area median income.

Discover Midway would be anchored by a renovated sports arena with an articulated roof inspired by waves, wings and sails. It would include more bathrooms, more concession stands and more space to move around.

A two-story mercado building just east of the arena would complement an outdoor marketplace with retail space for local merchants, artisans and community groups. In total, the group is proposing 150,000 square feet of retail space across the project.

Discover Midway’s primary park component, called the Mesa, is an elevated green space with ocean views at the northwest corner of the site.

Midway Village+

The Midway Village+ park
A rendering shows the Midway Village+ development team’s vision for a new 15,000-seat arena and a 12-acre central park with a skate park, walking and biking paths and a stream.
(Courtesy of McCullough Landscape Architecture and AVRP Studios)

The Midway Village+ proposal from housing builder Toll Bros., sports real estate firm Revitate (replacing former partner Oak View Group) and affordable-housing developer Bridge Housing, includes apartments for a variety of income levels, including more than 1,000 units for low- and middle-income residents.

A new 15,000-seat arena, which could be expanded, would sit in the center of the project and feed into a 12-acre public park, a hotel and a 3,500-seat event center. Commercial buildings would line the periphery of the site.

On the western edge, on a parcel not included in the city’s solicitation, the development team also would like to build a 20,000-seat home for the San Diego Loyal soccer team.

Midway Rising

A conceptual rendering of the Midway Rising project.
A conceptual rendering of the Midway Rising plan for San Diego’s sports arena site shows a new state-of-the-art arena on the eastern edge of the property, along with a hotel and a public square.
(Courtesy of Safdie Rabines Architects)

Midway Rising combines San Diego-based Zephyr with well-known arena operator Legends and affordable-housing builder Chelsea Investment Corp.

The group’s early plan, designed by project architect Safdie Rabines, envisions a roughly 16,000-seat, privately financed arena on the eastern edge of the property, with an urban public square where anyone could gather to watch games or concerts on the arena’s exterior video board or patronize the project’s 250,000 square feet of shops and restaurants.

On the western side, a mix of affordable units, middle-income apartments and market-rate housing would be spread across midrise towers that open onto a central paseo.

A series of rooftop parks, which would cover above-ground parking garages, and elevated walkways would connect residents and visitors to the sports complex.

Midway Rising also calls for a hotel near the arena.

HomeTownSD

HomeTownSD rendering
HomeTownSD, depicted in a rendering, would include 3,250 apartment homes, a 10,000-capacity sports arena, a hotel, commercial office and retail space and 18 acres of green space spread across parks and rooftops.
(Courtesy of AO Architects)

Developers Monarch Group and Essex Property Trust have teamed with
affordable-housing builder Eden Housing and sports real estate firm JMI
Sports on a proposal called HomeTownSD.

The team is pitching an everyone-is-welcome community where 3,250 housing units of varying affordability would be accented by an urban marketplace and a new arena downsized from the existing one to hold 10,000 people.

The plan centers around more than 2,000 deed-restricted apartment homes set aside for low- and middle-income families. It also includes a hotel, 300,000 square feet of commercial office and retail space, a 10,000-square-foot child care facility and 18 acres of green space spread across parks and rooftops.

Neighborhood Next pairs the ConAm Group with Wakeland and Community Housing Works.


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