Liberty Station and downtown ballpark get honors

McMillin denies that it has broken its promises

— San Diego is getting some astonishing surprises: prizes. In August, the housing project at Liberty Station won the Redevelopment Community of the Year Award from the Association of Defense Communities. The transformation of the old Naval Training Center -- profitable for McMillin Companies but a loss for the City -- is being called a model of success for redevelopment of other former military sites.

Yeah, really. It smacks of those awards for auditing excellence the City's financial staff used to receive.

In May, the Ballpark and Neighborhood Revitalization Project was one of ten winners of the Urban Land Institute's Award of Excellence. Centre City Development Corporation claims the private investment that the project will generate in a 60-block area is worth $4 billion.

But 60 blocks? For land acquisition purposes, the ballpark district is 26 blocks, but Centre City insists that the entire district embraces a much larger area. But it is just plain goofy to claim that development within 60 blocks was generated by the ballpark giveaway. Centre City has conveniently forgotten that during the years that ballpark-related condos were springing up, interest rates were at their lowest in half a century. There were condo booms all over the United States. Those booms are now imploding, as is San Diego's.

The developers never delivered the office, hotel, and retail structures that were promised. And the condos were inordinately purchased by speculators and out-of-towners who are seldom in them. So there is little boost to the economy, and since the condos were heavily subsidized, it is hard to tell if there is any net gain for the City at all. There really should be an audit to determine whether this project has been a net positive. But don't expect an honest assessment from Centre City: "They supply disinformation," says Councilmember Donna Frye. "They include the numbers they want you to hear." Centre City boasts about income but never reveals expenses. The bulk of tax income from redevelopment projects goes back into more development, while expenses such as infrastructure and services are carried by the ailing general fund.

Liberty Station presents similar problems. "The reason McMillin was awarded the deal was the promise to split the profits 50-50 with the City," says activist John McNab. "But the City has received a negative amount. The only redevelopment funds that were used at [the Naval Training Center project] went to relieve McMillin of obligations in the historical district, but the property taxes are going to the Redevelopment Agency, which is using the funds as slush for developers around the City."

McMillin denies that it has broken its promises, but there aren't many believers among those who have followed this project.

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