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‘San Diego Grand Central’ Took a Step Forward But Is Far From a Done Deal

What Mayor Kevin Faulconer and company announced Wednesday is a non-binding commitment to consider including the idea for a regional transit hub in the Navy’s call for private bids to redevelop its property.

The NAVWAR property / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

San Diego is a small but important step closer to building a massive transit hub with an airport connection at the site of the World War II-era SPAWAR facility in Old Town.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the U.S. Navy and representatives from the airport and regional transit agencies gathered Wednesday to announce that they’ve reached a deal that would potentially lead the way to the ambitious “San Diego Grand Central” vision that Faulconer and Hasan Ikhrata, SANDAG’s director, outlined earlier this year.

But everyone chose their words carefully at the press conference, reiterating that the major project is still far from a sure thing.

Here’s the deal.

Late last year, the Navy issued a request for ideas for how it could redevelop the property that’s long been home to SPAWAR, the Navy’s cyberwarfare arm that was recently renamed “NAVWAR.” Any proposal would include building NAVWAR new facilities.

SANDAG submitted the idea outlined by Ikhrata and Faulconer as one of those ideas. It calls for combining 70 acres of the NAVWAR site with the Old Town transit station for a new regional transportation hub that could include 10,000 housing units and 10 million square feet of new office space.

What Faulconer and company announced Wednesday is a non-binding commitment to consider including the Grand Central idea in the Navy’s call for private bids.

The Navy and SANDAG have now signed an agreement – with no binding commitments from either side – that will explore including the Grand Central concept in a request for proposals that the Navy will issue to private developers. SANDAG, as part of the agreement, agreed that it will not submit its own bid as part of that process. The agreement also clears the way for the Navy and SANDAG to begin working together on any environmental planning or studies necessary to include the idea in the Navy’s call for private bids.

“SANDAG is not a bidder, will never propose on this. It excludes them. It’s the Navy’s right to decide if we will include a Grand Central Station in the project, and if we do include it in the solicitation, whether we accept a proposal that includes development of a Grand Central Station,” said Capt. Mark Edelson, the Southwest commanding officer for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command. “The Navy is moving forward with the redevelopment, and what this gives us is a framework to draw out what a Grand Central Station is, and how to incorporate it in what the Navy will put on the street. When we release a proposal, it’ll include the Navy’s needs in it, and possibly SANDAG’s needs in it.”

The soft deal comes a week after the Airport Authority announced that it reached an agreement with its airlines to provide up to $500 million to improve transportation access to the airport. That could eventually include the airport connection to Grand Central station.

Faulconer, Ikhrata and everyone else at the meeting were careful not to indicate that their vision was a done deal. After the meeting, Ikhrata said an optimistic timeframe going forward would be two years to strike a final agreement for a private developer to come in and build a new dense urban area including a transit hub that could be the biggest in the state, and maybe 10 years for someone to take a train from the area to the airport. He emphasized that would require nothing going wrong in the meantime.

“Frankly this step is needed, to move the environmental work forward, and to talk to our partners at the Navy to freely talk about the potential for including 10,000 to 15,000 housing units, for putting 10 to 15 million square feet of office space, for building the transit hub, and it is frankly an important step for people in San Diego to believe this is possible,” Ikhrata said. “The interest from the biggest private investment firms in the world, has been here talking about this. The biggest, the ones who do LAX and Laguardia. I expect them to be coming very fast and saying, ‘Yes, we will do this.’”

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