By Catherine Spearnak
Port’s development honors history with its future
Downtown residents recently got their first look at the proposed Lane Field South hotel complex, set to open on the Embarcadero in spring 2018, and they seemed to like what they saw.
“The spatial layout is absolutely perfect,” said San Diego Downtown Residents Group President Gary Smith, to about 75 members of the public who attended a meeting held by the Port of San Diego.
Smith and others gathered Feb. 19 to get a glimpse of initial renderings of the proposed hotel, retail and parking complex.
Port commissioners will decide in June whether to approve the Lane Field South project design as presented. The public hearing was a chance for people to comment so the commission receives input before voting.
A developer, LPP Lane Field, LLC, comprising Portman Holdings, Phelps Development and Lankford & Associates, is currently working with the Port to develop the majority of the northern portion of the Lane Field site into a 400-room hotel in a single building fronting Pacific Highway with a public park on the western portion fronting Harbor Drive.
The proposed hotel features a slim design to keep views open, offering a building with a narrow profile. Planned green spaces will create an urban public waterfront. In addition to the hotel, complex plans include 33,000-square-feet of retail and restaurant space and 686 parking spaces, with 271 reserved for public use. The three levels of parking will be below ground, hidden from view.
San Diego resident and local baseball historian Bill Swank said he was surprised there were no complaints about the project at the Lane Field South meeting, because they had occurred at other meetings he had attended about the site.
“I’ve been attending these North Embarcadero planning meetings since 1997 and they can be contentious; this meeting was quite civil,” Swank said later. “Nobody objected to the second, taller, high-rise hotel at the corner of Broadway and Pacific Highway.”
The planned development is the southern portion of the Lane Field project, located at 900 W. Broadway, in the North Embarcadero area of Downtown, with Broadway to the south, Harbor Drive to the west and Pacific Highway to the east. In recent years the site has been used as a surface parking lot for cruise ship and general public parking since the 1960s and was formerly a baseball stadium known as “Lane Field,” home of the minor league Pacific Coast League (PCL) Padres from 1936 to 1957.
As a result, the development will include a two-acre “Lane Field Park” dedicated to the former PCL team, who left Downtown for Mission Valley in 1957 when the wooden bleachers of the Lane Field ballpark began rotting away.
The park will be dedicated March 16 during a ceremony that will include comments by Councilman Todd Gloria and feature former Padre Rudy Regala, now in his 80s, who played with the PCL club in the 1950s. The park includes a replica baseball diamond to commemorate the ballpark.
“My goal has always been to preserve the history of baseball at the Lane Field site and I like Lane Field Park,” Swank said. “I’m pleased with the replica diamond at the corner of Broadway and Harbor Drive and the 2003 SABR bronze plaque was moved there from Broadway and Pacific Highway, too. I gave the original blueprints to the developer and it’s exactly 87 feet from home plate to first base, just like it was at [the original] Lane Field until the error was discovered in the 1950s.”
One critical comment did ring throughout the Feb. 19 Port meeting — no one seemed to want the palm trees planned around the outside perimeter of the hotel. Several speakers asked Portman Holdings, the designers, to plant something else. One Downtown resident called palm trees “foreboding and looming”; another said they looked like telephone poles.
The entire room perked up when Dorothy Carroll of the Village Garden Club of La Jolla volunteered the group’s efforts to help raise funds to replace the palm trees with jacaranda trees around the hotel. The La Jolla Village Garden Club has already planted 42 jacarandas — ornamental trees that bloom with lavender blossoms every spring — in the North Embarcadero area. The group has planted a total of 2,200 of the colorful trees around the county since 1986, Carroll said. Jacarandas grow up to 30-feet tall and cost $350 – $600.
A representative for Portman Holdings said that although the Port’s plans call for palm trees, a Port spokesperson took notes at the meeting and those comments will be shared with the Port Commissioners before they vote to approve the project. The firm must submit any changes in design to the Port by April 30.
A second public meeting for comments on Lane Field South is in the works, but a date has yet to be announced. For more information visit portofsandiego.org/lane-field.html.
—Catherine Spearnak is a San Diego-based freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Editor Morgan M. Hurley contributed to this report.