Topgolf, the entertainment group famous for popularizing a high-tech, highly social twist on the traditional driving range, is once again eyeing a premier location on waterfront real estate opposite San Diego’s airport.
The firm is revisiting a long-abandoned plan to build a three-story driving range and entertainment venue on a portion of East Harbor Island, where rental car companies Hertz, Avis and National Rent-a-Car operated before moving to the airport’s Rental Car Center garage on Pacific Highway. Topgolf’s renewed interest could soon be formalized through an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Port of the San Diego, which owns the site.
The turn of events follows an abrupt change in plans by developer OliverMcMillan, which had been selected by the port in September 2016 to redevelop 35 acres of land and 13 acres of water with hundreds of hotel rooms, a “boatel” and an urban village. OliverMcMillan won a competitive bidding process that also included Topgolf and Sunroad Enterprises. However, the local developer, owned by Brookfield Residential, pulled out of its contract with the port in February, saying it was too busy to continue with the mixed-use project.
Topgolf then re-entered the picture, approaching the San Diego Unified Port District after OliverMcMillan’s exit, said Brianne Mundy Page, a spokeswoman for the port. The international group, whose first U.S. location debuted in 2005, said it would be interested in pursuing a concept not dissimilar to the one it had proposed for a portion of the East Harbor Island property in 2015, she said
The parties can begin negotiating project specifics and the terms of a leasehold once port commissioners sign off on talks, which could happen at the agency’s October board meeting.
Topgolf’s original pitch included a 65,000 square-foot facility on around 9 acres of land with 102 decked-out hitting bays for golfers and their friends. The group, whose U.S. investors include Carlsbad-based Callaway Golf, also planned a gaming lounge with free pool tables, a 3,000 square-foot rooftop terrace that can accommodate musical performances, a full-service restaurant and multiple bars. The firm’s San Diego facility would be “uniquely iconic,” and designed to “maximize public access, park space, view corridors and site efficiencies,” according to a statement of interest previously provided to the port.
“The Topgolf facility is oriented facing east in order to mitigate the impact of the setting sun and to retain an iconic view corridor for patrons and the general public. It has been positioned to be hitting balls towards the marina and the downtown San Diego skyline,” the 4-year-old document says. “The third-story, open air roof deck will benefit from year round San Diego weather and be a preferred destination for free outdoor concerts, and unparalleled views of the Pacific Coastline.”
Should the port take up talks with Topgolf, the agency could still consider other redevelopment proposals for the remaining acreage of the East Harbor Island site, Mundy Page said.
In a separate but related process, Sunroad is working through plans to redo an adjacent 7-acre site know as the “Elbow Parcel,” also on East Harbor Island. Sunroad is still fine-tuning the details of a hotel project for the site. It is expected to return to the board with an updated proposal later this year.