A new resort hotel has been announced as a possible part of the big Breakwater Town Center shopping mall being built in Imperial Beach, and some residents are expressing consternation.
Developer Sudberry Properties sent a letter in mid-July to residents who live near the project, the first phase of which is currently under construction, inviting them to a July 25th community-feedback meeting about the hotel proposal.
Phase 1 of the project, which includes retail stores such as Grocery Outlet, Starbucks, Pizza Studio, Jersey Mike’s, Baskin Robbins and T-Mobile on 33,000 square feet of land at 9th Street and Palm Avenue, is expected to be finished by the second half of 2017. The hotel would be in Phase 2 of the project on a smaller parcel of the land within the area.
Colton Sudberry, president of Sudberry Properties, said they were having trouble finding a retail outlet for the Phase 2 area. "There's about an acre, an acre and a half," he said. "We can't find anyone…we were aggressively looking for retail."
He added that the possibility of a hotel in the shopping center had been discussed with the Imperial Beach city government in the past, but in theoretical terms.
"We approached them about this long before we closed escrow. We discussed a hotel with the city, and the city said yes, it could conceptually make sense," he said. "The idea has been floated for quite some time."
Imperial Beach city manager Andy Hall acknowledged that Sudberry Properties "have always kept options open" but declined to answer who in the Imperial Beach city government had discussed the hotel with Sudberrry or when.
"This is the first step in the process and it will be considered by the city council at the appropriate point in the process," Hall said via email, and that further comment would be "premature."
The words "Future Retail / Hotel (TBD)" on the Phase 2 area are included on a map of the proposed shopping center that has long been publicly available.
Sudberry said that when he recently proposed a hotel to the city again in a more formal way, it was decided that "the first thing we want to do is approach the community and get community feedback."
So far there have been grumblings about the idea on social media after one of the residents who received the letter, Bruce Stewart, posted it on Facebook. The complaints include concerns that residents were not better notified about a possible hotel in the shopping center before, that the hotel would be small and seedy, that Imperial Beach is changing its affordable, residential, small-town nature due to overdevelopment and gentrification, that overly large buildings are being built, and that another hotel is not wanted.
The Marriott Pier South Resort opened on Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach two years ago, and another resort hotel is planned for the corner of Seacoast Drive and Imperial Beach Boulevard.
"Leave it empty until they find an appropriate and profitable business," Stewart wrote. "Another hotel is not needed."
Others comments include, "A hotel 7 blocks from the beach is a joke?" and "We are losing our beach skyline to high-rise buildings, our landmarks destroyed, friends and family are relocating due to high rent."
Sudberry made it clear that if a hotel is developed on the site, it would be "a nicer hotel...we're looking at a Marriott residence or Hampton Inn," with the goal of making a positive addition to the local area.
He said the other businesses in the upcoming mall would not accept a lower-grade hotel. "Starbucks, those guys would kill me," he said. "It's not going to be a Motel 6."
He said it would be "only about 10 to 11 feet higher" than the Grocery Outlet being built in the mall, which is "approximately 35 feet," and the possible hotel would have "approximately 100 rooms." The Marriott Pier South has 78 rooms.
Sudberry acknowledged that "we've had a few emails, concerned about what's going on." He said he hoped that the July 25th community meeting, which will include graphic renditions of the proposal, would give a clear and positive picture about what a possible hotel and its surroundings would look like.
Most Imperial Beach residents did not receive the notification letter about the community feedback meeting, since the letter only went to residents who live near the construction site at 9th Street and Palm Avenue. Toni Jean, who lives “off 9th” near the naval base, reported not receiving the letter.
There seems to have been no formal outreach by the Imperial Beach city government to inform residents of the meeting: it's not listed on the city's website calendar and is not mentioned on their Facebook page. City manager Hall had no comment on the notification process.
Sudberry added that no tax money would go toward the hotel project but that city governments often set up a hotel-tax sharing program that temporarily gives a portion of the city's hotel-tax revenues back to new hotels to help them be viable for the first couple years.
"We're at the very beginning on the hotel conversation," Sudberry added. "We're continuing to try to look for a good retail anchor there and if we're not successful, then we'll go to the hotel."
The Breakwater Town Center, a public/private partnership between Sudberry Properties and the Imperial Beach city government, has been heralded as a major positive for Imperial Beach.
Attempts to develop the area have a long and sometimes troubled history. The Miracle Shopping Center, which used to stand on the site, was a long-neglected eyesore by the time the former Imperial Beach Redevelopment Agency bought the property and then bulldozed it in 2011. The land then sat vacant for over four years, causing discontent among locals. There were questions about the high purchase price of the land versus the eventual low selling price, and bureaucratic tangles complicated the development when state redevelopment agencies were dissolved in 2011.
The July 25 meeting is at 6 p.m. in the Community Room at the Imperial Beach Civic Center (city hall), 825 Imperial Beach Boulevard.