‘Feeding-Frenzy’ About to Begin Over Navy’s NAVWAR Property

by on September 21, 2022 · 8 comments

in Military, Ocean Beach, San Diego

If you thought the developers’ feeding frenzy around the Sports Arena was intense, wait until you see what happens when the Navy unleashes its request for proposals for its sprawling NAVWAR properties.

Sometime this fall, the Navy will issue what’s known as a request for qualifications (RfQ) for its area in the Midway District. That will be quickly followed by a request for proposals, which, as the Union-Tribune described, “will kickstart a real estate competition where almost anything goes.”

The timeline is still being scheduled out, but “the Navy expects to issue its solicitation before the end of the year and take roughly a year to pick a winner,” reported Jennifer van Grove at the U-T.

The prize: 70.5 acres of federal land free from local restraints, like building height limits, and free from state restraints, like building affordable housing. There is one huge commitment, however, for the winning developer: they must build at no cost to the Navy, 1.7 million square feet of new office and warehouse facilities, 1.1 million square feet of which must remain on the property.

Last week, the Navy issued a press release announcing the pending solicitation and invited developers to preregister with its procurement system, SAM.gov. The property up for grabs is nearly six times as large as the land in the downtown San Diego public-private land swap.

Greg Geisen, who is the project manager, is expecting big things, big developers, big names, big companies to be knocking on his door. He told the U-T:

“This is a big project. So we’re expecting big teams…. Some of the biggest developer names out there will likely submit on it. And they will be teamed with other very large companies and experts in their field.

So they’re going to be trying to put together their A game for a very, very large (public-private partnership). This will be the largest (public-private partnership) the Navy has ever done, by (anticipated dollar value).”

Also, the Navy will do things differently this time around. When they announced proposals for the property last year, they were met with a deluge of mostly negative response from the community. They admit that they received over 1,000 letters in response.

Geisen told the U-T:

“What we’re going to do now, is instead of getting to a (record of decision in the environmental review process) and then going to market, we’re going to market and will (narrow down the field) to a single developer.”

The winning development plan will then serve as the guidepost for the remaining environmental work, giving the public a clearer picture of what they can actually expect to see on the site, he said.

Also, another change is that any costs of working with SANDAG on some kind of mega-transit center is off the table.

Local experts believe bids will come from national firms and will include a combination of office space, residential units, retail, hotels and park space — at a large scale — and developers can propose almost anything.

The U-T:

The land is owned by the federal government and will likely be leased on a long-term basis, meaning local zoning laws or building height restrictions do not apply. What’s more, California’s Surplus Land Act, which requires municipalities to offload their land to developers who set aside at least 25 percent of residences for low-income and very low-income families, is not applicable.

Yet, the Navy is somewhat cautious and knows the community wouldn’t stand for it to go crazy. Geisen said,

“There’s the law and then there’s common sense. At the end of the day, the Navy wants to be a good partner here in San Diego. We are a federal agency and we have different legalities that we follow. But on the other hand, we have a great relationship with the city and the people of San Diego. We wouldn’t want to turn around and make that confrontational.”

And Caitlin Ostomel, spokesperson for Navy Region Southwest, told the U-T that the Navy intends to encourage any potential master developers to work closely with the local community and take the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Plan into consideration.

Despite these promises by the Navy ‘to be a good neighbor,’ they, the process and the feeding frenzy just might get out of hand. Developers will see this as an opportunity of a lifetime, of a chance to strike it rich off of government land, to create a lasting legacy for themselves. You saw what happened with the Sports Arena boondoggle, a mayor’s campaign contributor being awarded the big contract for 48 acres. This is 70 acres, on very visible, very significant land.

Any development there will overshadow anything around it as its scale and the magnitude of possibilities will overwhelm San Diego and its residents.

Real estate analyst Gary London, who is a principal of local firm London Moeder Advisors, thinks it will be “a transformational project for San Diego.” He explained it to the U-T:

“Essentially, they’re going to transform an entire neighborhood at a really large scale. The Navy made do with buildings that are highly vestigial, and most people go by them every day and don’t even think about it. This will be a very visible project. It’s near transportation. It’s near downtown. It’s near the airport. There’ll be a huge demand for the kinds of uses that will come out of this. It’s a perfect urban infill project at a scale that could have only been duplicated at a few locations (in San Diego).”

So, grab onto your seats, this will be a bumpy ride as development projects threaten to takeover the city.


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

kh September 21, 2022 at 4:55 pm

I want to put my hat in the ring. Which public official will be the main decision maker on this, and where do I find their election campaign to donate a few hundred thou?


Mat Wahlstrom September 21, 2022 at 9:12 pm

As one of the 1,000+ writers to the Navy about the disposition of NAVWAR, sorry that not only has nothing been responsive to our concerns, but that they’ve doubled-down on selling out the people of San Diego who originally gave them this land for free:

” While the purpose and need of a NAVWAR site revitalization is acknowledged, Alternatives 1 through 5 in the Draft EIS entail unmitigable impacts that would severely undermine environmental quality onsite and regionally — both during construction and after completion.
Only Alternative 1 could qualify to fit the criteria necessary to be an ‘environmentally preferred alternative’ if it were modified to retain and adaptively reuse one of the Consolidated Aircraft Plant 2 Historic District hangars and if the remaining space remediated of the decades of environmentally hazardous materials that a site assessment would identify and such area considered for dedication as park space, such as in fulfillment of the proposed River Trail Park.
This version of Alternative 1 would also minimize the impacts to the Old Town State Park, the National Historic Landmark Presidio Park, and historic viewscapes now providing context for the city’s founding and early development — including the historic views of San Diego Bay from the Presidio. Today’s sweeping panorama of Point Loma, Ballast Point and its Fort Guijarros, and the original Spanish landing site, El Desembarcadero, would be blocked, making it impossible to understand the early settlement of San Diego and to interpret these important landmarks by sight.
Further, Alternative 1 would take only five years to complete instead of the twenty to thirty year time frames required by Alternatives 2 through 5, with the unconsidered environmental impacts on the region that private development would entail.
As mentioned above and as the Draft EIS states, no site assessments have been done and therefore Alternatives 2 through 5 have not properly addressed the cost to taxpayers that would be needed to remediate the property. This would further undermine any public benefit for subsidizing private development without affordable housing requirements.
It is not within the Navy’s purview to claim providing market-rate housing through public-private arrangements for private development as a benefit of Alternatives 2 through 5. In fact, the Navy is obligated to have any redevelopment project that includes a housing component be restricted to providing housing for its personnel and families only, to offset the market and environmental impacts their demand places on the rest of the region to house them. Therefore any public-private partnership agreement that contains a housing element would need to be deed restricted for use by service members and their families only.
[Nor is it within the Navy’s discretion to claim underwriting a purely speculative project of another governmental agency, as Alternatives 4 and 5 do for a SANDAG transit center, as an offset to the unmitigable impacts entailed in these alternatives.]
Finally, the purpose of such a revitalization is to ensure the safety and continuity of the Navy’s defense capabilities into the 21st Century. Allowing a ‘revitalized’ NAVWAR structure to be surrounded by private development — with no consideration of or real control over occupancy by hostile foreign and non-state actors, in structures towering above it, as necessitated by Alternatives 2 through 5 — would fatally compromise the security of this future installation and of the United States as a whole.”


kh September 22, 2022 at 8:11 am

What is the source of this text?


Mat Wahlstrom September 22, 2022 at 8:33 am

My public comment submitted in response to the Navy’s Draft EIS for NAVWAR on 8/12/21, https://navwar-revitalization.com/draft-eis/


Geoff Page September 22, 2022 at 12:56 pm

Made entirely too much sense.

Then, I read this wearing my glasses that have $ symbols etched into them. All I saw was blah, blah, blah…


retired botanist September 22, 2022 at 11:26 am

Whoo boy, gonna be a ‘bumpy ride” indeed. And very strange sort of backward approach to the environmental review process and ROD. The remediation alone will be monumental, nevermind the avoidance and minimization of new environmental impact under any of the proferred alternatives…
And one phrase in particular stands out: “Navy…intends to encourage any potential master developers to work closely with the local community and take the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Plan into consideration.” The usual codespeak for ‘acknowledge and ignore”
Thx for the excellent comments, Mat, this one’s gonna be a real hair-puller.


Mat Wahlstrom September 22, 2022 at 12:22 pm

Thanks RB. Don’t know if it will make any difference, but I had to get it on the record so they can’t say they weren’t warned.


Geoff Page September 22, 2022 at 1:07 pm

Great piece on this coming project.

Oddly enough, public outrage at the first presentation did have an effect. The Navy is now going about this very differently. As the piece says they are going to find what they call a “master builder.” Forty plus years in the construction business and I had not heard this as a formal term. The MB will help get enough of a basic design done to allow the permitting process to run parallel with the procurement process.

The Navy is saying that there will now be an outreach effort to get public opinion on the project, their way of showing they learned something. But, if they proceed with permitting with a basic design, this may limit what the public will be able to comment on and what the eventual proposers will be able to do. Once certain permits are in place, making changes is a major ordeal. This happened the first time with a withdrawn coastal permit.

The Navy will listen, to an extent, but rest assured, they will try to get the most they can out of the eventual deal. They are not much different from other developers, in fact they are much like them in that they are redeveloping this property with other people’s money.


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