By Ken Williams | Editor
The proposed luxury apartment complex at The San Diego Union-Tribune site in Mission Valley is scheduled to go to a vote by the city Planning Commission on June 18, officials say.
The project would erect two residential towers containing 200 high-end apartment units on the back side of the U-T property, facing the San Diego River. The mid-rise towers would be seven stories high; one would be filled entirely with apartment units while the other would have the two lower floors devoted to a parking garage with five upper floors of apartment units. Each unit would have one to three bedrooms, according to plans.
Supporters of the project tout a riverwalk promenade and pocket park as perks that would be shared by the community.
Situated on slightly less than 13 acres, the U-T site is bounded by Camino de la Reina to the south and east, the river to the north, and the Town & Country resort hotel to the west.
In March, the Mission Valley Planning Group voted 17-0-3 to recommend the project’s approval to the city’s Planning Commission.
Dottie Surdi, chair of the planning group and a resident of Mission Valley, said the project has slimmed down considerably since it was originally proposed in 2012 with a 22-story residential tower and a 10-story office building with retail space.
“The market demand for commercial property just isn’t there,” she said. “There are lots of vacancies in the office market in Mission Valley. We have to be very competitive to attract clients.”
And Surdi should know: She is also a senior advisor at the Sperry Van Ness Finest City Commercial office in Clairemont Mesa.
Surdi said all the approvals for the U-T project have been given, all the vetting has been completed on environmental and archaeological issues, and now it’s up to the Planning Commission to vote. If approved, the project would go to the City Council for a final decision.
Perry Dealy, president and CEO of Dealy Development and a member of the MVPG, is also involved in the project as a consulting development manager to the Manchester Financial Group. He abstained from voting on the project when it came before the MVPG.
The Manchester Financial Group is headed by developer Doug Manchester, the former publisher of the U-T. Manchester recently sold the U-T to Tribune Publishing — which owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other media outlets — but he retained ownership of the U-T office building, the printing press building and the valuable land.
The two existing redbrick U-T buildings will not be demolished, according to city documents filed before the paper was sold. Since the U-T will eventually be printed by LA Times presses and the newsroom has only a year’s lease on the Mission Valley office, the future usage of both existing buildings is not known. Dealy said the newspaper could extend that lease or move out of the building that is zoned as office space. He said the presses will eventually be removed from the other building, which is zoned industrial. Dealy said Manchester hasn’t indicated how he might repurpose those buildings in the future.
The U-T project site is likely to get full entitlement from the city in July, then face about a year of construction permitting before ground can be broken, according to the planning group. Work is expected to begin in summer 2016 and last about 18 months.
A review of the MVPG meeting minutes reveals the project’s lengthy history as well as the concerns of the Design Advisory Board. Dealy made a presentation to the board and noted: “The project is one of the first to implement improvements in accordance with the San Diego River Park Plan, including a river wall promenade and public pocket park. Additionally, both pedestrian and bike circulation paths are proposed.”
Surdi said she is pleased that the project would face the San Diego River and create a pocket park along the waterway that would be dedicated to the city when completed. She pointed out the need for more public parks in Mission Valley and the community-wide desire to make the river an asset rather than an afterthought. And Dealy touted the outdoor amenities, noting that the promenade was created for the benefit of pedestrians and bicyclists.
The towers would mimic the look of the U-T office building, a cultural icon since the 1960s in Mission Valley with its modern mix of redbrick and concrete facings.
One of the concerns generated by the project had to do with traffic. But the developer touted the nearness of the Fashion Valley Transit Center, where buses and the trolley connect, and which would be accessible via a pedestrian bridge over the river behind the Town and Country Hotel. The project was dubbed a “transit oriented development project,” according to the minutes.
Traffic studies clearly project an increase in the number of vehicles using Camino de la Reina and nearby streets accessing Interstate 8 and State Route 163, but not just because of the Union-Tribune project. Western neighbor Town & Country is seeking city approval to add 840 residential units, and down the street to the east the Millennium Mission Valley project will create 305 more residential units on the site of a former auto and boat dealership.
The final plan calls for 985 total parking spaces for the entire U-T site, including 319 to be located in one of the residential towers, Dealy said.
The public will be able to make comments on the U-T project at the June 18 Planning Commission meeting, prior to the vote.
—Ken Williams is editor of Mission Valley News and San Diego Uptown News and can be reached at email@example.com or at 619-961-1952. For the record, he is a former employee of The San Diego Union-Tribune when it was own by Copley Press, but he has never worked for Doug Manchester.