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California City Solutions: Coronado Transforms Underused Bay Property into Thriving Civic Center and Recreational Hub

June 19, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Coronado’s Glorietta Bay Civic Center and Promenade was submitted in 2013 for the Planning and Environmental Quality award category.
A half-mile stretch of Glorietta Bay in the city of Coronado sat drab and dusty for decades. The bay front area was an odd assortment of permanent and semi-permanent military buildings repurposed to house the community facility, city offices and a community playhouse. Through thoughtful civic planning and land use the Glorietta Bay Civic Center and Promenade Project was created. The completed project is a shining example of how a large underused property can be transformed to make a beautiful and accessible location for recreational use and enjoyment. The $33 million redevelopment project offers a variety of amenities for youth, teens and adults.

The bay front property is located south of the famous Hotel del Coronado and north of Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, which is the training ground for the elite Navy SEAL program. During its heyday, the Hotel del Coronado operated Glorietta Bay as a tourist attraction that featured recreation and vacation rentals at the hotel’s “Tent City” where visitors enjoyed affordable, canvas-covered cabins.
Tent City thrived for nearly 40 years and then closed as the Great Depression lingered and World War II approached. The military occupied the land in the 1940s, with the USO operating in one of the government-constructed buildings on Glorietta Bay. It later became a National Guard Armory. The city set up shop in an old Navy building called the Hobby Club after it was purchased from the Navy in 1953. For the next 50-plus years, the Hobby Club would operate as City Hall.
The city also acquired the Navy’s old Women’s Club building and later built a swimming pool on the site. Although the property was adjacent to the water, a ditch and deteriorating seawall prevented the public from getting close enough to admire breathtaking bay front views. In 1954 the city developed a comprehensive redevelopment plan for the area including a community center, swimming pool complex, a passive linear park and promenade, and City Hall, but it never broke ground due to lack of funding. While the land around Glorietta Bay was being developed, the bay front property remained untouched for another 40 years.
By the early 1990s, the city had devised the Glorietta Bay Master Plan. The master plan expanded the original 1954 plan by adding a teen center, boathouse for non-motorized vessel storage, public art and gardens, and the renovation and reconstruction of a public marina and historic 100-year-old boathouse.
Master planning research began in 1997. An environmental report was completed in 2000, followed by more than 30 public hearings, meetings and forums. The city council adopted the master plan and certified the environmental review in 2001. The first component of the project broke ground in 2002.
During the multi-year process the city decided that the master plan would need to meet these public access goals to be successful:
  • Establish a continuous waterfront promenade;
  • Emphasize the natural elements and encourage outdoor activities;
  • Allow for circulation of pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles; and
  • Create attractive buildings sensitive to their surroundings.
While everyone was working toward the same end result — to create an inviting, inspiring and accessible community hub — local residents had their own concerns including the potential for lost views and concerns about misdirected lighting.
In addition to integrating all of the master plan’s goals, accommodations were made for nearby residents. A proposed two-story plan was eliminated in favor of single-story structures. Design engineers kept in mind that any new structure would be visible from land, water and the project’s much taller neighbors. All air conditioning, heating and other equipment was congregated in central plants rather than placed on rooftops, which is the more conventional location for equipment. Additionally, several proposed varieties of trees were replaced with those with smaller canopies or removed altogether from view corridors. All lighting was directed downward and low glare fixtures were used to help reduce light pollution.
A New Environment
Nearly 20 years of planning and development had turned remote buildings and vacant land into a beautiful environment of recreational activity. One of the more noticeable features of the site is the waterfront promenade connecting the residential community with the boat ramp facility at Glorietta Bay Park. Locals bring their lunches to enjoy the view, art students set up easels weekly, and parents with children take in the beautiful gardens. Couples are married weekly in the linear park, using Glorietta Bay as a backdrop.
Another gathering place is the Community Center, offering a variety of athletic, arts, dance, cooking, boating, music, swimming, reading and fitness programs for all ages. Since it was built, the Community Center has seen a 75 percent increase in programs and attendance. Its banquet room is so popular, Saturdays and most Fridays are booked solid for two years out. The center includes an outdoor patio, meeting rooms and the cabaret-style community theatre and fixture for nearly seven decades, the Coronado Playhouse.
The buildings are bordered by a wide, pedestrian walkway skirting Glorietta Bay and a linear park filled with public art, benches and gardens. The walkway and park connect the two buildings providing visitors with a spectacular view of the bay.
At the center of the project is a unique two-piece wave and shell sculpture by artist James Hubbell which was designed to be the formal entrance to the project and a place of celebration and gathering for the Coronado community. 

The Club Room and Boathouse, drawing the city’s youth and water enthusiasts, was the final piece of the project. Stand up paddle boarders and kayakers now have storage and easy bay access.
The Community Center and City Hall buildings also have many sustainable and green features, including:
  • High-efficiency motion sensor lighting;
  • Motion-activated faucets and low-flow fixtures;
  • Operable windows that help reduce non-essential air conditioning;
  • Light-colored materials to reduce the urban heat island;
  • Permeable pavers in parking lots to absorb storm runoff;
  • Drought-tolerant landscaping to reduce water consumption; and
  • A glass railing atop the renovated seawall for better bay views.
The community partnerships that were made helped the city create a project that has become a vital center of civic participation and activity while retaining the special character of the community's past. Memories of Tent City are part of a commissioned photo art piece that pays homage to the area’s past.
The property along Glorietta Bay has always been a jewel of Coronado. It may have taken decades to regenerate but Coronado can point to it once again as a source of inspiration, beauty and civic pride.
Watch the YouTube video to see a view of the area.

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