In the midst of the battle for jurisdiction over which government agency can give permission for a restaurant to be constructed at the old Anthony's Grotto site on Harbor Drive, former tenant Craig Ghio weighed in with a surprising message: the site should become part of the waterfront park and not another eatery.
"With so many upcoming restaurant opportunities…a restaurant at this site is no longer necessary," Ghio wrote. "I suggest the Anthony's location be repurposed as a true front porch for the city of San Diego, an over the water extension of the County Administration's waterfront park."
In his letter to the coastal commission, Ghio laid out his opposition to the Brigantine plan as too big, too boxy, and incompatible with the Embarcadero and the maritime museum next door. The Anthony's building may have historic value, he says, because it was designed by Friedrich Leibhart, a student and disciple of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Ghio emphasizes that Anthony's does not want to return to the bayfront location where it served locals and tourists at the Fishette and the Grotto for 50 years. The letter comes at a moment when the California Coastal Commission ruled that it has jurisdiction over the Brigantine plan, a view disputed by the Port of San Diego — which approved the plan in December 2016.
The dispute centers on whether or not the coastal commission can vet restaurant plans, which the commission intends to do. The port contends that the coastal act did not give the commission authority over restaurants. A letter sent by the Brigantine's lawyers cites a decision in the San Diegans for Open Government lawsuit against the coastal commission — over a proposed restaurant approved by the commission — where Superior Court judge Ronald Prager observed that restaurants aren't included in the Coastal Act.
At its March 8 meeting, the coastal commission decided it does have jurisdiction and scheduled its review of the restaurant plan for May. Commission staff has assembled a list of concerns — many over public access, and some over the amount of well-lit signage for the project the Brigantine calls the Portside Pier.
The Brigantine — whose owners did not return calls for comment — won the competition for the site with a plan for a $13.3 million, two-story, 37,225-square-foot complex with a restaurant, snack bar, coffee shop, and a 3711-square-foot second-floor deck. The plan includes a dock twice the size of the Anthony's dock that the commission's report said will be used exclusively by Brigantine customers. The project would start with the complete demolition of the Anthony's building, including removal and replacement of the pilings sunk into the bay floor.
That deck would be open to the public, which would have to find and traverse a narrow corridor to get there. In its review of the Brigantine plan, commission staff asserts that "it is unlikely that the public will be aware of these amenities as access to them is only available by entering through the restaurant elevator or outdoor dining area."
The port, in a written statement, said they are disappointed by the commission decision and are considering their next steps: "The port of San Diego is committed to public, waterfront access and this project provides significant improvements over the status quo including a perimeter walkway and a second level viewing platform. Contrary to claims by coastal staff, people will be able to access the perimeter walkway around the bottom floor directly from the North Embarcadero Promenade and the second level viewing deck directly from the promenade via a dedicated elevator."
The Brigantine restaurant group is expected to pay $1.1 million a year in rent, according to port documents.
"The port has ample opportunity to recover the lost rent," Ghio wrote, pointing to other high-end projects underway. "The coastal commission has a once in 50 year opportunity to help create an uninterrupted grand esplanade from the B Street Pier to the Coast Guard Station.... What a spot it will be to view fireworks, the Parade of Lights and Fleet Week," Ghio wrote.