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2 San Diego Uptown News | Sept. 30–Oct.13, 2011

NEWS Expanding Old Town State Historic Park

By Margie M. Palmer SDUN Reporter

The California Parks Depart-

ment has its eye on property owned by CalTrans. The 2.5-acre in question is lo-


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cated adjacent to the Old Town State Historic Park, and park representatives believe that its acquisition would round out the historical tale of Old Town. California Parks Representa-

tive Clay Phillips said the land beneath the vacant building on the lot, formerly used as the Cal- Trans headquarters, is what’s of most interest. “Basically, if you could pic-

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ture the Old Town State Historic Park as a big square pizza, the CalTrans property is basically a big chunk in the upper left- hand corner,” Phillips said. “Be- cause Old Town is this unique display of history, this property isn’t about just a point in time but a span of history of the Mexican era of the 1820s all the way through the transition of the American era in the 1870s. What’s underneath that build- ing is an important part of the story to add to the people who don’t really understand what Old Town is.” Although CalTrans and the

Department of Parks and Recre- ation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the transfer of the land in Oct. 2008, the deal was never consummat- ed. The terms of the MOU pro- vided for an initial cash payment of $2.5 million with an additional $8.2 million being paid within ten years of the property’s trans-

The California Parks Department is looking to acquire a 2.5-acre lot in Old Town as a means of expanding the Old Town State Historic Park. Whether the land’s owner, CalTrans, will sell it to them remains uncertain. (Photo by Daniel Solomon)

fer date. Currently, The Parks Department has $2.5 million available for a down payment for the property, but due to budget cuts it cannot guarantee that it would have the balance within ten years. The Parks Department, al-

though still interested in ac- quiring the CalTrans property, believes the parcel of land has since devaluated. In a Sept. 7 Broker Opinion

of Value report prepared by Col- liers International, the condition of the building was described as being “fair to poor”. The report states, “Based on [a] report pre- pared by the Department of the State Architect the rehabilita- tion of the existing structures is financially unfeasible even if the property were to be given away.” Phillips further points out

that the building would need to be demolished and therefore should not contribute to its fair market value assessment. CalTrans, who currently pays

an annual $50,000 bill for main- tenance of its former headquar- ters, is now evaluating other and perhaps more lucrative means of sale. Notice of the sale will be made public. “Prior to selling it we [will]

send out a letter to [public] agen- cies to let them know this is what’s available and to find out if any- one is interested,” said CalTrans spokesperson Ed Cartagena. In a July 1 letter to CalTrans

District 11 Deputy District Di- rector Bruce April, San Diego

Senator Christine Kehoe ap- pealed for the property to be transferred to State Parks. “It is unfortunate that Cal-

Trans has backed away from the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed on October 15, 2008 between [CalTrans] and the Department of Parks and Recreation, and is proceeding with the potential sale of the for- mer CalTrans property,” Kehoe wrote. “The transfer of the property

from CalTrans to Parks would allow the creation of a welcom- ing ‘front door’ for Old Town State Park and allow the direct connection with the San Diego River, whose banks were origi- nally along the site of the former CalTrans building. Expanding the park would allow a repre- sentation of what Native Ameri- can life along the river was like, showing the connections with the life-giving river such as early gardens and landscapes. It would enhance pedestrian ac- cess to Old Town State Park and allow for safer pedestrian access to the City of San Diego’s Presi- dio Park,” she added. Chuck Ross, owner of Old

Town’s Fiesta de Reyes shops and restaurants, agrees. “Transferring the property

to State Parks makes perfectly good sense,” Ross said. “Putting it on the retail market is a bad decision all around. The build- ing is worthless and it’s really an eyesore. This is for the better- ment of the community.”u

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