The $40 million Topgolf driving range proposed for a bay-front parcel near San Diego’s airport appears to be in a holding pattern with local leaders uncertain as to whether the high-tech entertainment venue is a good fit for the prime real estate.
Tuesday, Port of San Diego Commissioners opted to postpone a decision on where to put the venue, which could take up as much as 12 acres on East Harbor Island when accounting for a large, surface parking lot.
The no-vote could be seen as a setback for Topgolf. In November, the privately held firm was given the OK to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with the port to lease the land. However, the contract, which is said to be nearly complete, cannot be executed until an exact location is identified.
“I did vote for moving forward (with the Topgolf agreement) at the last meeting … but I expressed reservations about this use in this place,” said Commissioner Rafael Castellanos, who is also a candidate for San Diego County Supervisor District 1. The commissioner reiterated a concern around public access and the high costs associated with using the driving range. “This is a lot of land. … I’m not feeling it.”
A consultant hired by the port suggested placing Topgolf between the Harbor Police Headquarters and the intersection of Liberator Way at North Harbor Drive. The illustration depicts the first of the consultant’s suggested three-part development with Topgolf located west of a potential 500-room hotel.
At the time, the port sought developer proposals to redevelop the 55 acres of airport-adjacent property occupied by soon-to-be-relocated car rental companies. The board originally picked OliverMcMillan to redo 48 acres of land and water with a mixed-use project, and selected Sunroad for a hotel project on the remaining 7-acre, “Elbow Parcel.” Last year, OliverMcMillan backed out of its contract, putting the larger parcel back into play.
The firm, started in 1999 and owned in part by Carlsbad’s Callaway Golf Company, has popularized a tech-driven take on the classic driving range where small groups socialize and compete in so-called “hitting bays.” Its latest bayfront vision calls for a three-level venue with 102 hitting bays, restaurant, bar, event space, 450 parking spaces and public viewing deck.
Topgolf had, as recently as November, hoped to take over the easternmost portion of East Harbor Island off of North Harbor Drive, which would have provided it unobstructed views of downtown San Diego’s skyline. However, a consultant hired by the port recommended Tuesday that the venue be slotted instead between the existing Harbor Police Headquarters and the intersection at Liberator Way. That configuration would leave room for hotel developments on either side of the driving range, along with 11 acres of waterfront public space, the consultant said.
Still, commissioners weren’t satisfied with the scenarios presented.
“I’m not yet feeling the welcome-to-San-Diego (vibe) with the way we’re structuring this right now,” Merrifield said.
The five present board members agreed that more work was needed to determine if Topgolf makes sense on the site, which they all view as having unrivaled development potential.
“Topgolf is very interested to serve San Diego,” said Matt Smith, the firm’s director of real estate.
Port staffers were instructed by Board Chair Ann Moore to bring the item back at a future meeting and provide additional detail on Topgolf’s revenue projections, options for reducing surface parking and refined suggestions on how other development uses could coexist on the site.