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Navy will consider 'Grand Central Station' transit hub in redevelopment of Point Loma base

The Ohio-class ballistic submarine USS Nebraska (SSBN 739) sits pier side at Naval Base Point Loma during a port call in preparation for their tiger cruise.

RONALD GUTRIDGE/U.S. NAVY

By JENNIFER VAN GROVE | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: July 10, 2019

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — The Navy is making room for the possibility of a much-talked-about transit center, one that local leaders have dubbed “San Diego Grand Central Station,” at the 70-acre base that overlooks Interstate 5 in Point Loma.

Wednesday, the Department of the Navy, Commander Navy Region Southwest and the San Diego Association of Governments announced that they have entered into a contract, or memorandum of understanding, that identifies a mutual interest in using the oft-called SPAWAR site for a future transportation hub that connects all rail types and provides access to San Diego International Airport.

“This is the beginning of what I expect to be a long partnership with the Navy,” said Steve Vaus, who chairs the SANDAG board and is the mayor of Poway. “The MOU creates the opportunity for SANDAG and the Navy to do something very special in the region, clearing a path for us to work on a major transportation hub and providing a transit link to the airport.”

A few miles from downtown and the airport, the Naval Base Point Loma, Old Town complex is home to the recently renamed Naval Information Warfare Systems Command and Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific divisions. The cybersecurity personnel use the site’s World War II-era hangers for lab space, storage, warehousing and administration needs. However, the Navy plans to eventually seek redevelopment proposals for the 70.46-acre property, offering a long-term ground lease in exchange for new facilities for its workers.

The thinking is that the expansive site, which straddles Pacific Highway in the Midway District, could accommodate much more than poorly utilized hangers. It could, for instance, feature millions of square feet of both government and corporate office space, as well as multi-family housing towers and even some retail.

The contract with SANDAG means that the military branch can — but isn’t required to — ask the private sector to include a transit center in its redevelopment solicitation, which is still years away. It also allows the agencies to share data and information as they work on environmental documents.

“The Navy remains dedicated to creating a more modern, efficient workspace ... while working closely with SANDAG and other entities to foster robust community engagement for this project,” said Capt. Mark Edelson, commanding officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest.

As it stands, the Navy has started its environmental review process for the site, which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act. That effort will likely take 18 to 36 months to complete, depending on public input and necessary revisions. It will be the precursor to any request for proposal, because it will determine what can and cannot be built on the property.

Still, the agreement signals a collaborative interest from two of the eight agencies responsible for bringing to life what’s remained intangible for decades: A direct public transit connection to the airport.

“This is an amazing opportunity to strengthen the Navy’s presence in San Diego, create thousands of jobs and make it easier for people across the region to get to and from the airport,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “This agreement is a promising beginning to what could be one of the most transformative projects in our region’s history.”

Representatives from the San Diego Regional Airport Authority, the Port of San Diego, the city, the county, the Navy, Caltrans, San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and the North County Transit District have since late last year been weighing various airport transit options, including a people mover or trolley extension. The group, called the Airport Connectivity Subcommittee, will select a direction later this summer.

The grand central station vision is a favorite with SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata. But some committee members, including City Council President Georgette Gomez, have signaled a desire for more immediate solutions over years-long endeavors. The newly signed contract could, then, reassure some committee members that the NAVWAR site is within the realm of possibilities.

And, although it’s still early days, there is a potential partial funding source for what’s anticipated to be a multi-billion-dollar effort. A new 10-year agreement between the airport authority and its airline partners will secure $350 million for transportation projects such as the grand central station.

©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune
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