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City Hall for all: Laurie Black proposes integrated government center, and wins support at luncheon

March 20, 2009 - 4:26 pm

Port Commissioner Laurie Black was sitting amongst her fellow tamale eaters at the Spirit of the Barrio Luncheon this afternoon, thinking about one of her civic passions: an integrated government center Downtown. Watching City Council members Todd Gloria, Marti Emerald, Ben Hueso, and Carl DeMaio talk about the city and its strengths and weaknesses, she saw her moment.

Audience members tell CityBeat that Black stood up and asked the council members what they’d think about transforming the vision for a new City Hall into a multi-agency, comprehensive government complex, one that housed San Diego City government, the Port of San Diego, and the San Diego-based state workers who currently work in the state office building on Front Street. Her vision involves coordination between the city, the port, the state, the Centre City Development Corporation, and possibly even the Housing Commission to bring it all about, and she hoped she could enlist the four council members in her cause.

And damned if it didn’t work. Audience members tell CityBeat that Emerald and Hueso both though it was a great idea. Gloria added that the project could also possibly house a Navy headquarters. Even DeMaio, who has opposed the idea of a new City Hall for months, seemed intrigued.

“He said the city wasn’t going to be able to build the new City Hall on its own,” said Adrian Kwiatkowski, a lobbyist who attended the lunch. “So maybe this would be a way to make it work.”

A spokesperson for DeMaio didn’t respond to CityBeat‘s invitation to comment on the lunch.

San Diego has been examining the possibility of building a new City Hall for over a year now, but the process has been held up by scandal at the Centre City Development Corporation, the city’s redevelopment arm Downtown. A crucial report on the financial feasibility of the project will be released to the public on Wednesday.

The idea for an integrated City Hall has been proposed before, but Black has become its latest champion. CityBeat spoke to her earlier in the week.

“You potentially could create a synergy between the Downtown needs,” Black said. “And mitigate the continuation of sprawl and at the same time do more inner-city redevelopment.”

Black sees this as a unique moment in San Diego history to combine forces on a major project. In addition to the prospect of a new City Hall, CCDC is looking into how to revitalize the C Street Corridor, plans are going forward for a transit hub near Lindbergh Field called Destination Lindbergh, the state is looking for new digs for its workers, and there’s going to be a new federal courthouse.

The lynchpins to all this are the city and CCDC. If four council members support the prospect of a comprehensive government center, that’s a good start.

“Let’s explore it,” Gloria told CityBeat in a later interview. “If there are efficiencies, let’s go for it.”

Mayor Jerry Sanders said through spokesperson that he might be interested if it proves to be a financial benefit to the city.

CCDC Chairman and CEO Fred Maas said in an e-mail that completing an analysis of the project was the top priority, and that any new City Hall would have to make financial sense for the city.

“I think the prospect of expanding the proposal, and this is entirely academic, is very interesting,” Maas said.

Port Commission Chairman Steve Cushman declined to comment because, he said, “I don’t know anything about it.”

That only leaves the project’s developer, Gerding Edlen lead Tom Cody. He preached patience

“I love the idea,” Cody said. “But we need to get to first base before we start thinking about the home run. You can see the fences, and I’m glad somebody is swinging for them. That’s the kind of dialogue that should be going on here.”

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