Liberty Station is a 361-acre project that involves the conversion of San Diego’s former Naval Training Center into a self-contained community that will include residences, offices, a retail center, an educational district, a large arts and cultural center, a number of hotels, and 125 acres of parks and open space. The project site is rigidly zoned to separate each of the uses into their own homogeneous districts.
The development is very favorably situated on a waterfront location just west of the airport and only a few miles from downtown San Diego. The project is notable for its renovation of dozens of historical buildings that will be adapted for stores, offices, art and dance studios, schools, and a myriad of other purposes.
The project materialized after the Navy announced in 1993 that it was closing its training center. The City established a 27 member commission to determine the future of the site, then created a detailed plan that served as the basis for an RFQ solicitation for a master developer. After reviewing proposals from five applicants, the City awarded the contract to the Corky McMillin Co. in 2000. McMillin started construction of the residential district in 2001, then turned its attention to the educational, office, and retail sections. The principal components:
Residential. McMillin created three separate neighborhoods for the 348 homes that utilize only 37 of Liberty Station’s 361 acres. Those neighborhoods include the 80 single-family residences at Admiralty Row, 128 row houses (Beacon Point) and 140 condominiums (Anchor Cove). The residential construction started in 2001 and was completed by 2005.
Liberty Station was not for those who were light of wallet, as single-family homes started at $719,000 and ran to $900,000. The homes sit in a rather compact area at the west end of the project and are flanked by the project’s Educational District and a large complex of Naval housing.
The single-family homes sold rather easily and most were occupied by the spring of 2004. These homes are set well back from extremely wide streets that were retained in the same dimensions as the original Naval station. Sidewalks are only 48” wide and there are no planter strips. Porches are not particularly inviting. Exteriors are traditional stucco. Considered as a whole, the absence of front-loaded garages is about the only feature that distinguishes this neighborhood from a conventional subdivision.
A total of 128 Beacon Point row homes range in size from the Point Loma (1938 to 2281 square feet) to the Point Montara (2674 to 3162 square feet). These detached homes are 21′ to 24′ in width and are separated from their neighbors by a three-foot space. There are no planter strips between the 66″ sidewalks and the wide street.
Each of the two-story homes has a two-car garage accessed from a rear alley. A number of the row houses front on the lineal green that runs through the center of Liberty Station.
The 140 condominiums of Anchor Cove are all three stories in height and include four styles: The Avalon (1086 square feet for $429,000), Glorietta (1105 square feet for $450,000), the Providence (1345 square feet for $536,000) and the much broader Annapolis (1593 square feet for $593,000).
All units have a two-car garage that is accessed from a rear alley. Typical condo format with the entry on the bottom floor, kitchen-living room-dining room and one bedroom on the second floor, and two additional bedrooms on the top floor. The more spacious Annapolis has a less conventional floor plan with one bedroom on each of its three levels.
Adjacent to Liberty Station (on the south side) are the 500 homes of The Village at NTC, a 500-unit townhome community that serves military families stationed in San Diego. This was a joint development that involved the Department of the Navy, Clark Realty, Lincoln Property Company and architect Torti Gallas. It received national recognition in 2003 when it received an EPA Smart Growth Award.
The townhomes at the Village are set close to the sidewalks which, unlike the homes at Liberty Station, have planter strips separating the walkways from the street. All townhomes at the village are served by alley-accessed garages. The project includes a proposal for a seven-acre elementary school and community center, and families are already within walking distance of a Navy exchange which would pass for a corner market.
Retail. A total of 57 acres have been designated for retail and service uses. They are split into two distinct areas–the smaller ‘Marketplace’ located near the center of the development, and ‘Seller’s Plaza’ which is located at the north end of the station. The retail establishments will be housed in 27 buildings that have been retained from the original Naval Station. Many of the Marketplace buildings were nearing completion in late 2006.
Liberty Station developers have had surprising success in recruiting some highly valued tenants. Most developers would be a grateful to land a single grocer, but McMillin has managed to capture both a Von’s Supermarket and a Trader Joe’s for the Marketplace. In addition, the Seller’s Plaza was able to lease space for an Ace Hardware Store.
Other early tenants include an ice cream shop, pizza parlor, bread store, wine shop, private postal center and a credit union. And, of course, a Starbucks. A number of restaurant operators were also considering locations at the station.
Many commercial ventures have rejected space at Liberty Station because they were unwilling to house their operations in existing buildings. Others were nervous about the availability of parking.
Educational District. Twenty acres at Liberty Station are designated for educational uses. Most will be housed in existing buildings, but others will involve new construction. Early tenants include the High Tech High School, Explorer Elementary, and a new campus and training center for the Rock Church. The High Tech and Explorer schools are both privately chartered institutions that have attracted more than 2000 students. The educational buildings are located in an area located between the residences and the Marketplace.
Office District. A total of 22 acres have been set aside for offices, including one for the headquarters of the McMillin Company. The office area has seven buildings that will offer 368,000 square feet of Class A space.
More than a dozen companies leased space after the first buildings were renovated, but interest slowed thereafter. McMillin is hopeful that completion and occupancy of the retail stores in the adjacent Marketplace will spur interest in the office buildings.
Among the early tenants were several CPAs, a law office, and corporate offices for the Cubic Corporation, Novonics, TriWest, Telisimo, Gnostech and the Lifewellness Institute.
NTC Promenade (Art and Cultural Center). Twenty-six historic buildings on 28 acres were donated by McMillin to a newly created non-profit corporation this is establishing an arts and culture center. The buildings will become venues for artists, musicians, dancers, exploratory programs, science, technology, and various multi-cultural pursuits. Buildings will be used for practice and performance studios, museums, environmental organization offices, and a culinary arts institute. A renovated Luce Auditorium will be available for larger music and drama performances.
Parks and Open Space. Fully one-third of the space (125 acres) at Liberty Station has been set aside for parks and open space. This includes Sail-Ho, a nine-hole golf course near the northern gate.
The most significant space (46 acres) is positioned along the waterfront of San Diego Bay. This area will eventually include 18 acres of ball fields and basketball courts, an athletic club, and other facilities consistent with the bay access.
Other major amenities are a lineal park that runs through the center of the residential area and extends north as either a green or plaza through the office district and the Promenade.