Matching up against six other competitors, a development group vying for the 48 acres of city-owned land near Pechanga Arena San Diego in the Midway District is pitching an everyone-is-welcome community where 3,250 housing units of varying affordability are accented by an urban marketplace and a new arena that is considerably smaller than the existing one.
Developers Monarch Group and Essex Property Trust have teamed with affordable housing builder Eden Housing and sports real estate firm JMI Sports on a proposal called HomeTownSD.
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The plan, unveiled Monday, centers around more than 2,000 deed-restricted apartment homes set aside for low- and middle-income families. It also includes a downsized sports arena that can hold 10,000 people, a 300-key hotel, 300,000 square feet of commercial office and retail space, a 10,000 square-foot child care facility, and 18 acres of green space spread across parks and rooftops.
“Housing is our No. 1 priority. It’s the heart of our plan,” said Sarah Kruer Jager, who is a partner with San Diego-based Monarch Group and is the project lead. “And it’s really emblematic of everybody on this team, the heart and the passion. We are investing in our community and addressing the housing affordability piece at scale.”
HomeTownSD is one of several teams competing to lease and redevelop San Diego’s real estate holdings at 3500, 3250, 3220 and 3240 Sports Arena Blvd, which include the 16,000-seat Pechanga Arena and its massive parking lot. The site is zoned for a total of 2,112 housing units, although a developer can build double that amount if it meets specific affordable housing requirements.
The city’s second solicitation process is following, by the book, California’s prescribed method for disposing of what’s considered surplus land. San Diego’s Department of Real Estate and Airport Management received seven responses to its October notice of availability for the sports arena site and is currently reviewing the submittals for completeness, department director Penny Maus said. The groups are now in a state-mandated, 90-day negotiation period with the city that runs through March 4.
Monarch and partners are leaning on their decades of experience in housing production and construction of hometown sports venues to sway city leaders on a plan they say not only provides a stepping stone for local families and workers, but also creates a world-class home that is the “right size” for the region’s minor league hockey and lacrosse teams.
HomeTownSD is offering the city two different housing scenarios, giving the municipality a say in how many low- or middle-income units it wants constructed on the site.
Option No. 1 includes 37.5 percent of housing units, or roughly 1,200 apartment homes, reserved for families making 80 percent or less of the region’s area median income; and 25 percent, or around 800 units, set aside for families making 80 percent to 120 percent of the area median income. The second plan calls for more affordable units, or 1,625 subsidized apartment homes, and fewer middle-income homes, or 400 units.
“(California) is losing families that make $50,000 to $60,000 a year and under because people can’t afford to live here. Those are the folks that Eden serves,” said Eden Housing CEO Linda Mandolini. The Bay Area-not-for-profit, started in 1968, has owned and operated more than 11,000 affordable units across the state. “On the sports arena (site), the goal is to try and create as much affordable, workforce housing that we can with the widest range of options.”
Both housing scenarios envision 37.5 percent of apartments as market-rate units, or around 1,200 luxury apartments.
All units will be concentrated in mid-rise towers west of the new arena, either flanking a large plaza that will double as an outdoor marketplace, or surrounding a 5.4-acre community park with a kids play area and a food truck station. Residential buildings will include two to three levels of above-ground parking, five stories of apartments and offer some ground-floor restaurants and shops.
On the eastern side of the property, HomeTownSD includes a smaller-scale arena that sits next to a 140-foot tall building with a food hall, shops, office space and a hotel.
The arena proposal, from Petco Park-developer JMI Sports, is said to be big on fan experience. It will, however, also be light on major-league requirements. The plan calls for 8,000 fixed seats with a total, event-day capacity of 10,000 people, when including standing-room-only sections. The arena could accommodate another 2,000 fans on outdoor concourses, said Erik Judson, who is CEO of JMI Sports.
Still, the capacity is well below the number needed to house a professional basketball or hockey team, roughly 17,000 seats. Whether it’ll be large enough to entice the top touring artists and their promoters is unknown.
“Make no mistake, this is intended to be a world-class arena. It does not need to be 15,000 seats to meet that mark,” Judson said, adding that the smaller size allows for a more intimate atmosphere.
The early, conceptual design calls for a porous and transparent arena with hangar-style doors that open up to a broader entertainment district. Beyond that, the arena’s size lends itself to an overall footprint that respects the larger Midway District. And with fewer seats, the developer can build less parking, which in turn allows for more homes, he said.
“There is flexibility in our plan. Ours is very thoughtful as to how this best fits with a super-critical residential project. We’ve been very thoughtful … about ingress and egress and transportation, and our neighbors,” Judson said.
Like others, HomeTownSD is pitching a dense project with housing, retail, office and hotel uses in buildings of varying heights. That puts the project potentially in conflict with height restrictions in the area.
Last year, San Diego voters passed Measure E, an ordinance that changes the definition of the coastal zone in the city’s municipal code to exclude what’s known as the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Plan area. Although the ballot-box victory paved the way for buildings taller than 30 feet in the 1,324-acre region, a pending San Diego Superior Court ruling could invalidate the measure and keep restrictions in place.