The election of mayor Kevin Faulconer appears to have paid off as expected for developer and U-T San Diego owner Douglas Manchester, who backed the Republican's campaign earlier this year with $356,000, funneled through GOP finance committees.
The voluble publisher has at least two big projects he's itching to get under way, downtown's so-called Navy Broadway Complex and the redevelopment of the U-T’s 12.86-acre Mission Valley headquarters.
A proponent of what might be called the modern baroque school of kitsch, Manchester hired architect Doug Austin to render the Mission Valley project, proposed to include room for the recently dwindling staff of Manchester's media operations as well as new improvements, including condos and commercial space.
Now the new mayor has appointed Austin to a spot on the powerful planning commission.
"Mr. Austin is a widely renowned expert in urban development," Faulconer said in a statement announcing the appointment.
"He established his own firm over 32 years ago that focuses on planning, architecture and design. Mr. Austin served as chair of Design and Construction Task Force for the city of San Diego's PetCo Park and Ballpark District as well as Vice Chairman of San Diego's Center City Development Corporation.
"He has been the recipient of over 100 Design Awards as well as several other awards for his contributions to his profession."
Manchester's announcement of the new U-T headquarters in May 2012 was accompanied by a literally glowing description of the project in his paper, featuring Austin.
"Doug Austin, whose architectural firm AVRP Studios is designing the project, said the hallmark will be a lighthouse structure at the top of the new office tower. It will incorporate a Times Square–type news ticker and a lantern that glows at night.
“I’ve always seen the paper as a beacon of the community, so it’s symbolic of that,” he said. “It’s out there to be the eyes and ears of the community — it’s a light. That’s the big inspiration piece.”
"Urban developments in suburban settings often pit residents against builders, but Austin said the U-T plan reflects San Diego’s desire to avoid Los Angeles–like sprawl and concentrate development so rural areas can be preserved.
"'It’s a perfect place to do it,' Austin said of the U-T site. "The traffic — that’s a technical thing that can be solved.'"
Under Democrat Bob Filner and his predecessor, Republican Jerry Sanders, the publisher didn't get far with his plans for the building and a giant video billboard he also wanted to install at the top of the existing U-T headquarters to promote the paper.
As reported here in May 2012, Manchester executive John Lynch reached out to then–city councilman Falconer with threats to use the newspaper if the publisher didn't get his way.
"Kevin," wrote Lynch in a February 29 email. "Attached, please find a design of the news crawl and iconic LED video screen. John Hadaya and Mariana Buenrostro of San Diego's Ultrasigns will co-ordinate with your office to secure a quick approval."
"This signage is an essential part of our strategy. We appreciate your assistance in leading the way for approval. Thanks again, Kevin...John."
On April 30, Lynch was back to ask another favor. City regulators had cited the U-T for hanging an illegal banner around the top of its headquarters:
"The UT was sent a citation calling for a fine of $1000 for the banner we have hanging on our building," Lynch wrote. "Per our meeting, I did not take it down while we are exploring the digital electronic sign.
"Please advise how we should respond.
"Should we proceed now? After the primary? After the fall election? Your counsel? What should we do?"
When Faulconer aide Katie Hansen told Lynch that the U-T banner had been the subject of public complaints and would have to go, he responded: "Katie, I have instructed that the banner to be taken down.
"If it weren't for the digital sign pending approval, I would instruct our folks to run a piece on how this is so reflective of this city being anti-business."
In addition to Austin, the new mayor has named longtime real estate lobbyist James Whalen to the planning commission. Says the release: "Mr. Whalen is a recognized government affairs expert, real estate developer and wildlife biologist."
According to his most recent lobbyist disclosure filing, dated April 23, Whalen's only client at the city during the first quarter was the Newland Group and its Tierra Alta project. Campaign contribution records show he gave $500 to Faulconer's mayoral campaign in January and $500 to the GOP Lincoln Club.
Austin has been more of a heavy hitter, giving a total of $11,415 since 2007, records show. He kicked in $5000 to Faulconer's mayoral cause and gave $1125 to GOP councilwoman Lorie Zapf in 2010.
Both appointments are set to go before the city council for ratification next month. We have an email in to Faulconer's office for more details.