For subscribers: San Diego to consider redevelopment of old … – The San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego will soon consider the potential sale and redevelopment of two vexed East Village properties — the old Central Library and a former indoor skydiving center now used for homeless services — in an effort to use excess city land to boost the production of homes for people of varying income levels.
Monday, Jay Goldstone, the city’s former second highest-ranking executive who is now special adviser to Mayor Todd Gloria, telegraphed the plan when updating City Council members on the anticipated solicitation of San Diego’s Civic Center properties.
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The idea, he said, would be to run three processes: The lease or sale of five municipal blocks under the Surplus Land Act, a separate process to secure a new City Hall on the block at 1222 First Ave., and a to-be-determined route to remake both the old Central Library and the skydiving building, now known as the City of San Diego Homelessness Response Center.
Closed since 2013, the former site of the city’s Central Library reopened this week as a temporary shelter.

Opened in 1954 and closed in 2013, the old Central Library at Eighth Avenue and E Street is a historically significant structure that sat empty for nearly a decade before being refashioned into a temporary homeless shelter for women earlier this year. Over the years, developers have contemplated various alternative uses, including a 42-story apartment tower.
The latest effort, which would have repurposed the existing building for office use, was scuttled because of a land-use question mark related to the deed. The issue has since been resolved, and the library site is now said to be unencumbered.
In 2018, San Diego purchased a failed indoor skydiving facility at 1401 Imperial Ave. — then a brand-new building completed in early 2017 — to establish what was being called a housing navigation center to connect homeless people with various services. The three-story, 26,500-square-foot building, complete with two wind-tunnel tubes, was purchased for $7 million with money allocated from a federal grant. The property has so far proved to be a thorn in the city’s side.
Currently, the San Diego Housing Commission operates the Homelessness Response Center at the property. Redevelopment could be complicated because of the terms associated with the grant money used to buy and operate the facility.
Still, city staff will consider available options.
In April, Goldstone will ask council members to concur with the mayor’s direction and give the go-ahead for staff to start work on redevelopment opportunities for its properties at 820 E St. and 1401 Imperial Ave. Should the resolution pass, staff will begin to study the sites, weigh the best project for each property and aim to solicit input from council members this summer, he told the Union-Tribune.
Additional housing, ideally restricted for low- and moderate-income families or even reserved for homeless people, has been the expressed priority.
If the properties are earmarked for sale to developers who commit to deed-restricting all residential units for people making 80 percent of the area median income, the city could bypass the noticing and negotiating requirements of the Surplus Land Act. The law mandates how local agencies can offload their no-longer-needed real estate.
However, if the city chooses to lease or sell the sites for other uses, including moderate-income and market-rate units or homeless shelters, the more stringent rules may apply.
The impetus for the action is linked to a request from three City Council members last year to lump together most of the city’s surplus downtown real estate and issue a “super” notice of availability for everything.
“I’ve heard from several council members (asking), ‘What’s going to happen to the navigation center? What’s going to happen to the old downtown Central Library?’” Goldstone said. “In discussions with (California’s Department of Housing and Community Development), it was determined that any noncontiguous parcel has to stand on its own and satisfy the Surplus Land Act. … So there was no real advantage to link them.”
Under the law, development teams need to reserve at least 25 percent of proposed residential units for low- and very-low-income families. The affordable housing requirement applies to each individual development site.
“Council members want movement on the redevelopment of (the old library and navigation center) sites, and were concerned that we wouldn’t focus on (them). This became a solution,” he said. “We will publicly commit to working it. The mayor’s giving directions. Council will concur with the directions. That sets a workload priority and we will assign staff accordingly.”
It’s unclear how the process will unfold.
After decades of failed attempts, the city is pressing forward with an effort to make its Civic Center real estate available for redevelopment while simultaneously pursuing a new home for city workers

High building costs and a shifting economic market will not only complicate the terms of any potential transactions but also stretch out the timeline, said real estate analyst Gary London, who is a principal of local firm London Moeder Advisors.
“The downtown market is in a state of flux, and the unknowns prevail over the knowns right now. I think there’s going to be a fair amount of agnosticism on the part of the development community to go forward on a residential project on (the old Central Library) site,” he said. “If (the city) wants to go (100 percent) affordable housing or homeless shelters, they’re on their own. But if they want market rate, it’s going to take a long time.”
Next month, city staff will also ask council members to declare five of the six blocks within the municipal core that now extends to 101 Ash Street as surplus land. The declaration would allow San Diego to offer the blocks up to private developers through a competitive bidding process subject to the Surplus Land Act. In addition, council members will be asked to reserve the block at 1222 First Ave. for an all-new City Hall.
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