By DAVE FIDLIN | Downtown News
Nothing is official and everything is on the table.
This sums up sentiments shared in recent weeks from a cross-section of officials as long-range plans for the aging Naval Base Point Loma Old Town Campus are going under the microscope.
The Navy Region Southwest, which has oversight of Point Loma’s various properties, has agreed to enter into a non-binding memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with the San Diego Association of Governments on the 70-acre Old Town site.
While the MOU on paper is between the U.S. Navy and SANDAG, other governing entities — including the City of San Diego — also have stepped up to the plate and expressed interest in helping pave a path forward for the Old Town Campus.
Conceptually, a number of possibilities have been floated for all or portions of the Old Town Campus. SANDAG has been advocating for the use of a portion of the site for a “Grand Central Station” that could serve as an important transportation hub that could connect the trolley system to the airport.
Other reuse possibilities for portions of the campus include a hybrid, mixed-use development scenario that could bring more housing, office space and retail to Downtown.
The MOU, officially signed July 10, outlines why the Navy is exploring different options for the Old Town campus at this time.
“The existing space is currently underutilized and is functionally obsolescent, given the 1940s-era facilities’ design,” a passage within the document states.
The active areas of the Old Town Campus currently function as space for cybersecurity and other related efforts through such programs as the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, or NAVWAR.
Officials said the MOU is intentionally designed to be open-ended with few specific timetables in place.
Jessica Gonzales, a spokeswoman with SANDAG, said the MOU will remain active for as long as necessary. Further information, she said, will come to light as needed.
“It’s still early in the process,” Gonzales said when asked about a possible timeline.
Officials in the Navy’s public information office indicated a range of efforts, including public input sessions, will take place in the road ahead before decisions are made.
While the future of the Navy’s Old Town Campus is not solidified at this point, officials at a recent news conference said the MOU in place will serve as an important instrument in exploring the full range of options — including, but not limited to, the Grand Central Station scenario.
At the news conference, held the day the MOU was signed, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he viewed it as a win for all parties involved.
“Redeveloping this property is an important opportunity to potentially grow the Navy’s footprint, and create good-paying jobs,” Faulconer said.
Speaking to the transportation hub, Faulconer also said the MOU is “a golden opportunity … to explore building what some of the world’s greatest cities have already done, and what we deserve here in San Diego.”
At the event, Cpt. Mark Edelson, commanding officer with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in the Southwest Region, said the military branch has been actively looking at ways to optimize use of the Old Town Campus for a number of years.
“This agreement, this MOU, gives us a framework to work with the City of San Diego,” Edelson said. “The Navy needs to develop [the campus] for war-fighting purposes to protect the country. If we can have a framework to collaborate and communicate on the redevelopment of this site … that is a wonderful opportunity.”
While the Navy will determine the ultimate next steps for the Old Town Campus, Steve Vaus, chair of the board overseeing SANDAG, said he looks forward to having the organization have a seat at the table as well.
“Shoulder to shoulder, we’ll move closer to have a transportation system that meets the needs of every person in every part of the community, all while ensuring the Navy has what it needs to keep America safe,” Vaus, mayor of Poway, said at the news conference.
Navy officials have indicated plans of posting periodic updates on the redevelopment reviews of the Old Town Campus at their official website, cnic.navy.mil/regions/cnrsw.html.
— Dave Fidlin is a freelance journalist with a special affinity for San Diego and its people. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org