A downtown office building built as the headquarters of fallen San Diego Republican kingpin Gordon Luce is soon to become a venue for what some media watchers anticipate will be the last stand of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The reincarnation of the 600 B Street high-rise, last year said to be set for partial conversion into a hotel, is redolent with the history of the city's collapsed political and financial empires of the past, and the more recent taint of a controversial tenant, whose name at the top of the building is now reportedly to be replaced by the newspaper's.
"As a result of being only 45% occupied for more than a year, the ownership of 600 B Street (currently with Bridgepoint on the building top sign) is trying a new strategy: Convert the lower half of the building (formerly occupied by the City of San Diego for 20+ years) into a hotel!" said a September 11, 2014, blog item by downtown office real estate maven Jason Hughes.
"They are currently marketing it for an outright sale with the draw being the office-to-hotel conversion. The challenge will be keeping the remaining tenants (and attracting new ones) if a lower-building conversion were to happen, as it will certainly change the make-up of the project. Maybe call it the Best Western Building? Super 8 High-Rise Hotel?"
The 24-story building's present owner, Dallas-based Lincoln Property, got it for the relatively bargain price of $49 million in December 2012 after the previous owner Legacy Partners, which had paid $95.5 million for it in 2006, lost the property to foreclosure, according to a 2012 Union-Tribune report.
The lease to Bridgepoint, long the target of regulators and lawsuits, happened in May 2010.
"The company's newest building, located in downtown San Diego at 600 B Street, will be used for administrative space to support Bridgepoint's Ashford University and University of the Rockies online learners," said a March 2010 Bridgepoint news release.
"In addition, the first floor will highlight the newly formed Bridgepoint Education Foundation and its community partners throughout the San Diego region. The 28,000 square-foot office space will house more than 100 Bridgepoint employees, and company signage will be visible in the San Diego skyline."
Two years later, Bridgepoint revealed it was laying off 450 Ashford University employees based here, and this past July said it would close the school’s bricks-and-mortar Iowa campus following a $7.25 million settlement of a case brought by the state of Iowa alleging coercive recruitment efforts.
In making its announcement this week, the Union-Tribune said it had signed a $40 million, 15-year lease for 59,164 square feet to house its operations, being moved from its 42-year-old Mission Valley headquarters.
That building and its accompanying printing presses, now being dismantled, were not part of the sale by the paper's ex-owner Douglas Manchester. U-T printing is now done in Los Angeles by the paper's current parent, Tribune Publishing of Chicago.
“It reaffirms our commitment to San Diego,” the paper quoted its president Russ Newton as saying about the B Street deal. “We’re moving to the heart of San Diego.”
A photo of the building accompanying the piece appeared to have been altered to remove the current Bridgepoint sign.
In addition to Bridgepoint and its dubious history, other ghosts of business and politics past haunt the building.
It was erected in 1974 as the power center of San Diego Federal Savings & Loan, later to be rechristened Great American Savings by its well-connected honcho Gordon Luce.
A Republican money man with close ties to Ronald Reagan and many other California-bred mid-century politicos, Luce also enjoyed a close relationship with Union-Tribune owner Jim Copley, as well as with Pete Wilson, the city's powerful GOP mayor who went on to become senator and later governor.
In one especially egregious case that took place under Copley's widow Helen, the U-T pushed hard for Great American PR man Dick Carlson's 1984 mayoral bid against embattled incumbent Roger Hedgecock but fell well short of the goal after Hedgecock sued for libel, forcing the paper to run a front-page retraction of its bogus charge that the mayor had been stashing money in a secret bank account.
Luce's manner of high-style living, political giving, and favor-returning began to crumble in the late 1980s as the national savings-and-loan scandal swept the nation, bringing Great American to the brink of insolvency. He stepped down in May 1990.
Federal regulators finally seized the institution in August 1991, ultimately leaving it to the taxpayers to mop up the giant financial mess Luce left behind.
He died in 2006 at the age of 80.