Mission Valley's Town and Country hotel, deeply intertwined with the city's long and controversial history of big-money influence and development, may be preparing for a historic change.
Built in the 1950s by the late Charlie Brown — the man who, along with Republican financier C. Arnholdt Smith, launched the land boom that turned Mission Valley from bucolic farmland into a multibillion real estate bonanza — the hotel complex just north of Interstate 8 at the state highway 163 interchange has played many roles, directly and indirectly, in San Diego's long history of pay-for-play politics.
Now, according to a disclosure filing made late yesterday with the San Diego city clerk's office by the downtown firm of Hecht Solberg Robinson Goldberg & Bagley LLP, giant national developer Lowe Enterprises Real Estate group has hired the law firm and its super lobbyist Paul Robinson to conduct "Due Diligence for Purchase of Town & Country property located at 500 Hotel Circle North."
Outcome sought: "Redevelopment of Town & Country property of Atlas Specific Plan."
Charlie Brown’s son, C. Terry Brown, currently runs the Town & Country, owned by the Brown family’s Atlas Hotels, Inc.
As reported here earlier this year:
His father, Charles H. Brown — who is said to have once operated a vegetable stand with his wife at the corner of Midway and Rosecrans and later owned a hotel on El Cajon Boulevard — opened the Town & Country Hotel in Mission Valley on December 25, 1953, following a fierce political struggle involving lots of campaign money and backroom dealings.
Wrote California historian Kevin Starr in his 2009 book Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance 1950–1963:
Mission Valley, after all, was a riverbed, hence liable to periodic flooding, as had happened most recently in 1952. Still, C. Arnholdt Smith received a zoning variance from the city council to build a baseball stadium there, and starting in 1953, hotel mogul Charles Brown, who had also secured zoning variances, was developing hotels and motels along Interstate 8 (the Town and Country, the Hanalei) in an area later designated Hotel Circle.
UCSD professor Steve Erie and Scott McKenzie wrote in a 2008 academic paper:
Hotelier Charles H. Brown had bankrolled the “Jobs and Growth” campaign, but his real priority was aggrandizing his Mission Valley property values at the expense of downtown.
Brown family friend and publisher Jim Copley moved the headquarters of his Union and Evening Tribune next door to the Town and Country in 1973. That property is now owned by another Brown chum and political ally, U-T San Diego publisher Douglas Manchester, who is also seeking to build out his land.
Successful large-scale redevelopment of the two giant Mission Valley property holdings might require new road construction, including freeway-access ramps, and would likely trigger another bitter controversy in the valley's long series of contentious traffic, environmental, and wetland struggles.
A strong mayor at city hall who sees it their way could be essential for the success of both the Brown and Manchester projects, as well as any successor landowners.
Robinson, who also handles lobbying chores for Manchester, is a stalwart of the GOP Lincoln Club, currently conducting a take-no-prisoners campaign of hit pieces against ex-GOP assemblyman and newly minted Democrat Nathan Fletcher, the mayoral candidate of choice for billionaire Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs.
On the other hand, Lowe's senior vice president Michael McNerney of Encinitas most recently contributed $1000 this August to Fletcher's bid for mayor.
Last year, McNerney hosted a mayoral fundraising bash for GOP city councilman Carl DeMaio, who lost to Bob Filner and is now running for Congress.
According to its website, real estate giant Lowe is a multibillion-dollar investor in projects across the country. It says, "Lowe Enterprises invests in office, retail, mixed-use, industrial and residential properties in strategic markets throughout the U.S. with a special focus on value-added and opportunistic investment opportunities."
We have calls in to the principals.