Four San Diego-based home builders plan to fill the city’s 48-acre sports arena site with up to 5,400 apartments, running up against – and potentially exceeding – zoning restrictions in a city-centric shopping district. parking lot and a warehouse where houses are mostly non-existent.

The town plan in the city, called Neighborhood Next, comes from real estate developers ConAm Group and Malick Infill Development, as well as affordable housing partners Community Housing Works and Wakeland Housing & Development Corp.

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The group is one of five teams competing to win a long-term ground lease and development rights for the San Diego real estate holdings at 3500, 3250, 3220 and 3240 Sports Arena Blvd. in the Midway neighborhood. The property includes the city-owned sports arena, which was built in 1966 and has long been the home of the San Diego Gulls professional hockey team.

San Diego is currently negotiating with bidders who have been instructed to submit site redevelopment plans with at least 25 percent of the proposed housing units reserved for low-income families. Teams were also urged to include a new or greatly improved sports arena.

“The heart and soul of (Neighborhood Next) is housing and the opportunity it provides,” said Zachary Adams, senior vice president of development at The ConAm Group.

In other words, the concept is fluid when it comes to a sports site.

Neighborhood Next offers to remake the plots in the style of San Diego’s Little Italy, where a plethora of apartment buildings of varying heights and designs bring to life a plethora of street-level activities, replete with restaurants and of shops, where pedestrians and cyclists have priority.

A central path, called the GreenLine Promenade, would extend the length of the project, weaving together a larger network of open spaces and transporting people from the property’s eastern boundary to the San Diego River.

In total, the group is designing a site with 4,800 to 5,400 apartments, up to 300,000 square feet of commercial and office space, a dedicated community building that could house a school or a library, and one or two hotels.

Everything comes together, with or without an arena, in a neighborhood where at least 25% of the apartments – or 1,200 to 1,350 units – are reserved for low-income families. Mid-income and market-priced apartments are also part of the mix, although the exact breakdown of units has not been provided.

Neighborhood Next tackles the arena requirement in the form of a multiple choice question for city officials. Does San Diego want a new 16,000-seat arena facing the water at the northwest corner of the site? Or would the city prefer a recycled sports arena, embellished to match the neighborhood? If not, what if there was no arena at all and it was being considered for another location yet to be determined?

“We wanted to at least paint a vision of what this site might look like if the community and the city thought the arena was better located elsewhere,” Adams said.

The off-site arena bet, covered by the team’s other two arena options, relies heavily on land use restrictions imposed by the state of California. The city’s land, which was officially designated earlier this year as “surplus,” must be disposed of in a way that favors builders of affordable housing, in accordance with new rules associated with the Surplus Land Act. The law dates back to the 1980s but was amended in 2019 to ensure that local agency land offered for sale or rent is made available for affordable housing, i.e. subsidized units and reserved for families earning 80% or less of the region’s median income.

Although the exact rubric is unknown, development proposals will be ranked according to the percentage of affordable housing they offer, the total number of affordable units included and their level of affordability.

An in-line rendering highlights how the ground floors of apartment buildings will be used for shops and restaurants which help create a vibrant urban atmosphere.

(Courtesy of 3XN and the ConAm Group)

“The other teams are trying to set up arena development in what is supposed to be a Housing First (project). We wanted to be in tune with what (Housing First) really means, ”said Sean Spear, President and CEO of Community Housing Works. “Housing is the priority, but there is room for an arena. From our point of view, we wanted to tackle the issue of arenas with the city as a partner.

This is why the Neighborhood Next development team clearly lacks an arena builder. Instead, the group hired Crossroads Consulting to help facilitate arena conservation. The St. Petersburg, Florida-based company has worked alongside many municipalities to study the feasibility of arena and stadium projects. The company is, for example, a frequent economic advisor to the Maryland Stadium Authority and in 2018 studied the viability of a new sports arena in downtown Baltimore. Instead, the existing Royal Farms Arena will undergo a $ 150 million renovation paid for by Oak View Group and Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures.

Pushing the arena elsewhere presumably frees up space for more houses. The team’s housing component considers more units than the city has previously declared allowed on site. The invitation noted that the sports arena plots are zoned for a total of 2,112 units. Developers can double the amount and build up to 4,224 units if their plans include affordable units between 600 square feet and 800 square feet.

The proposed density is high and rare outside of downtown San Diego.

Today, the entire Midway neighborhood has fewer than 2,000 homes and is home to approximately 4,600 people. An update of the region’s community plan in 2018 allows for a population growth potential of 23,660 people. Yet most of San Diego’s promising large multi-family development projects are spread over properties with much more square footage. The Riverwalk project in Mission Valley, for example, will introduce up to 4,300 apartments and condos, to be built, on a 195-acre site. And the San Diego State Mission Valley campus, which includes the new Snapdragon Stadium, has 4,600 residential units on the former 135-acre Qualcomm Stadium site.

Neighborhood Next is working with Danish design studio Gehl for a European approach to density.

“We have hired (…) the most sophisticated urban design company working in the world today and they design healthy and efficient urban environments,” said Andrew Malick, Founder and CEO of Malick Infill Development. “So when you say, ‘Oh my God, how do you put all these houses in here? They do it all over the world, we’re just not used to seeing what healthy density looks like.

The vision also relies on the developers’ ability to erect towers that exceed the 30-foot height limit of the Midway District. San Diego voters last year overturned the restriction, but a court challenge recently overturned the ballot win, presenting a hurdle for Neighborhood Next and other sports arena venue bidders.