San Diego Port Commissioners deny 44-story bayfront hotel and marina expansion

The Fifth Ave Landing project included a market rate hotel, lower-cost visitor-serving hotel, expansion of the 12-slip marina, new water transportation center, retail space and public plaza and park.

Staff note: A previous version of this story stated the Port of San Diego had tried and failed to regain the leasehold several times. The story has been updated to correct this information to state the city of San Diego has tried but failed to regain the leasehold. 

SAN DIEGO—A project to construct a 44-story hotel and an expand a marina on the San Diego bayfront near the Convention Center has been denied by the San Diego Board of Port Commissioners.

A public hearing on the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Port Master Plan Amendment for the Fifth Ave Landing project was held at the Commission’s Dec. 28 meeting. The board ultimately voted 5-2 against certifying the EIR, with Commissioners Dan Malcolm and Robert Valderrama casting the dissenting votes in support of the project moving forward.

The board’s support was needed for the approximately $455 million commercial and recreational bayside redevelopment to move forward. The 18-acre project included plans to build a 44-story market rate hotel with 843 rooms; a 5-story lower-cost visitor serving hotel with 220 rooms; expansion of an existing 12-slip marina by 50 slips; and construction of a new water transportation center; 7,750 square feet of retail space, 2.26 acres of elevated public plaza and park areas; and a pedestrian bridge connecting the hotel rooftop public plaza and park areas to the San Diego Convention Center.

In March 2020, the developer proposed several tweaks to plan including decreasing the number of market rate hotel rooms from 850 to 843 and increasing the gross square footage by 115,736 sf; decreasing the lower cost serving hotel in size by 20,000 sf and changing the 565 beds to 220 rooms; and increasing the size of public plaza and park area by 12,958 sf.

The environmental review found the project would have significant direct and cumulative impacts on aesthetics and visual resources; greenhouse gas emissions and climate change; hazards and hazardous materials; noise and vibration; public services and recreation; and transportation, circulation and parking, among others. Port District staff proposed several alternatives to mitigate impacts, with staff recommending the commission select alternative four. Under this alternative, the proposed project would occur as proposed but the marina expansion would only include Phase I which would add 23 new marina slips ranging in size from 50 feet to 200 feet. Phase II of the marina expansion, which would add 27 slips to the marina, would be eliminated.

Despite the mitigation alternatives, the size and location of the project was a sticking point for some of the commissioners.

“I love this project, I’ve always liked the hotel, I’ve always liked the lower-cost affordable accommodations but I don’t like it here,” Commissioner Rafael Castellanos said at the meeting. “I’m incredulous that Coastal Commission would approve a 44-story hotel tower, 800 rooms that is perpendicular to and literally on top of the pedestrian promenade.”

Other commissioners felt the project should have the opportunity to go before the Coastal Commission.

“With us going through the downturn that we’re going through right now and its going take us a tough time to get out of this recovery, I believe that we need a project like this,” said Commissioner Robert Valderrama. “I think we need to give them that opportunity to see what they can work out with the Coastal Commission.

The project has been in the works since 2016 but Fifth Avenue Landing has held the lease for the property for decades. The city of San Diego once had control of part of the site as part of efforts to expand the Convention Center, but lost it. The city later entered an agreement with the Port and Fifth Avenue Landing to regain control, but because the city was unable to meet certain terms of the agreement, Fifth Avenue Landing maintained control of the site under their lease with the Port.

Fifth Avenue Landing is located just south of the Marriott Marquis Marina, Seaport Village, Tuna Market and embarcadero area. A ferry from Coronado Island arrives at the edge of the landing and drops off nearly 300,000 people annually. The 12-slip boutique marina also serves as a place for 100- to 350-foot yachts to dock.

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