Gerding Edlen Announces Plans for San Diego Civic Center Complex

Jul 23, 2008

Multi-phase program includes new city hall, fire station, mixed-use buildings and a series of interconnected public plazas and courtyards

Proposed design for the San Diego Civic Center Complex

san diego – Gerding Edlen Development, a Portland-based “green” developer, today unveiled its proposal to replace the aging downtown San Diego Civic Center complex with a “more fiscally sound, pedestrian-friendly, citizen-centric and environmentally oriented civic heart.”

Along with a new city hall building and adjacent council chambers, plans for the four-block site call for several sustainably designed high-rise residential and office towers, a fire station, refurbished theatre, and a multitude of pedestrian-oriented public gathering spaces including plazas, paseos, promenades and courtyards.

“We want to create engaging and energetic places that encourage people to participate in civic activities and community events,” says Gerding Edlen Principal Tom Cody. “And we want to do it in an environmentally friendly way that saves the city money and preserves our natural resources.  Beauty and affordability are not mutually exclusive.”

The prominent Oregon developer of award-winning large-scale, mixed-use urban development projects is teaming up with nationally recognized Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects and San Diego-based architectural firm M.W. Steele Group and Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects to compete for a public-private partnership with the City of San Diego to revitalize the civic core. 

After more than a year of public input sessions “where residents told us they wanted a place for the people including easy access to government offices and wide-open community spaces,” and analyzing all aspects of the landmark downtown site, the group submitted a detailed 350-page proposal that outlines its three-phase approach for redeveloping the “heart and soul of the city.” 

Gerding Edlen, one of two finalists vying for the development agreement, proposes creating public facilities with a dynamic street-level experience as well as “an ecologically sustainable mixed-use project that meets or exceeds U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum rating while delivering tremendous economic benefit to the City.”

Under Gerding Edlen’s proposal, a new 34-story City Hall building, on the block bounded by First and Second Avenues and B and C Streets, will be the centerpiece of the complex and comprise the first phase of development.

The elegantly curved aluminum and glass building – with a top floor public observation deck and education center – will be flanked by the multi-functional City Hall Plaza on the south side along C Street and the Village Square, Paseo and renovated Civic Theatre on the east.

According to Cody, the architectural design – which is intended to connect people to government and derived from the concepts of light, air and water – is meant to be “symbolic of San Diego weather and culture – warm, casual and relaxed yet sophisticated in nature.”

The base of City Hall is designed to create an active indoor/outdoor environment that invites citizens to approach and interact with their government. The accessible City Council Chambers will be positioned on a raised plaza called The Mesa, while the “One Stop Shop” on the ground level provides city residents and business owners with centralized access to civic services and is accessible through several entry points, including a welcoming covered porch and central paseo that will boast retail shops and restaurants.

“This arrangement creates government transparency and maximizes accessibility to City Hall functions while creating a lively retail and entertainment base that helps to activate the site,” says Cody.  “On the eastern edge of the new Village Square, we propose that the existing Civic Theatre’s exterior be renovated and its borders completely reworked to create “a beacon for performing arts in San Diego.”

In addition to the new City Hall and refurbished Civic Theatre, Gerding Edlen’s plan includes leveraging the city’s investment. A future phase of mixed-use development on the block bounded by First and Second Avenues, and A and B Streets, will contain for-lease housing or a hotel, along with retail and office space.

“We also intend to create a special urban experience by placing pocket courtyards with idyllically landscaped terrain and water features in the complex as a relief from the streets,” explains Cody. “It will also serve as an informal area where grocery shoppers can eat their lunch, retail shoppers can rest and children can play away from the streets.” 

In order to make this second phase a reality, the Parkade, currently an inefficient use of space, would have to be removed. This moves parking underground, creating a catalyst for active streetscapes and a more pedestrian, family-friendly environment.

The final block for redevelopment, bounded by First and Front Avenues and A and B Streets, will be home to the City’s new Fire Station One with the remainder of the site housing a mixed-use tower with market-rate and affordable housing and office space. The building’s lobby will face B Street and the proposed Court’s Masterplan new city park, while the ground floor will have “active uses” such as retail spaces to continue servicing the downtown core, notes Cody.   

“With the mixed program elements of retail, office and housing, we are reinforcing the notion of life not just during the day, but on a 24-hour basis,” he says.

Gerding Edlen is also proposing an innovative partnership with NRG Energy Inc., the downtown district chilled water system operator, to connect with the existing plant and build a new on-site facility for the Civic Center Complex as well as other private customers in the area. “This is just one of the many forward-thinking sustainable design elements that we’re proposing,” says Cody. 

According to Cody, wind turbines at the building’s top and extensive solar energy generation will result in “greener and lower operating costs to the City.”  Other energy and water reduction strategies include natural ventilation, solar sun shades, onsite wastewater treatment and hydronic HVAC systems.

“With this project, we will create more than just a center for local government, but also a place for and about the people of San Diego,” he says.

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Gerding Edlen

Gerding Edlen is a leading real estate investment, development and asset and property management firm recognized for its expertise in creating and owning highly sustainable, urban infill, office, residential and mixed-use properties. Founded in 1996, the firm engages a socially responsible approach to real estate by cultivating properties that strengthen communities, minimize impact on the environment and add profound value to residents and tenants. Gerding Edlen’s efforts are guided by a set of criteria, known as the Principles of Place, where community plays a pivotal role alongside design, technology and sustainability in the success of their properties. Gerding Edlen’s development entity is a recognized national leader of sustainable development, which includes more than 75 LEED certified or certified pending properties. 

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