Thunder Rugby older players. John Williams “Kids need to be out, running around right now. But they’re not."
The pandemic has not slowed the big dig at El Corazon, the 465-acre clump of mostly undeveloped mid-city parkland owned by the city of Oceanside. The heavy equipment work continues on the 2.2-acre Oceanside Aquatic Center, complete with a 56-meter pool suitable for competitive meets, a second instructional pool, locker facility and multipurpose room. Opening is set for summertime, 2021.
City of Oceanside Engineering
Three years ago Oceanside’s first “world-class” swimming facility was projected to cost $15 million. The basic costs ended up at $26 million. If the bonds aren’t paid off before their 30-year maturity date in 2050, the total cost of the aquatic center including debt service would be $40.8 million.
Competitive high school swimmers and their parents have thanked the city of Oceanside. But the Pop Warner, little league, lacrosse, softball, and rugby kids who don’t have fields to play on express different emotions when they show up at Oceanside city council meetings.
“We could be doing so much more than spending this money on a swimming pool,” says Kim Quamme, who helps coordinate the Oceanside Girls Fastpitch softball league. “What are they going to do with an Olympic-sized pool?” she asks, noting that Oceanside already has two pools but so few traditional sports playing fields. She says her league has 17 teams with about 250 girls aged five to 14. “It's rough as a parent. It is frustrating. We can use Capistrano Park [near Camp Pendleton’s front gate] but a lot of parents don’t want to use it because they don’t think it’s safe.”
Quamme says she and other parents haul goodies to stock a portable snack bar set up for each game. “We try to raise money so we can give scholarships to girls who want to play but maybe can’t afford it…. We have to schedule away games outside of Oceanside because we can’t fit 17 teams on the two fields we use. We sponsor a lot of girls. We want to see these kids get a chance to go to college. We end up having to find fields outside of Oceanside. It is so frustrating.”
Oceanside Girls Fastpitch softball players. “What are they going to do with an Olympic-sized pool?”
Also competing for space is Josh Williams, president of Thunder Rugby which serves over 400 area kids. “We’re in this weird period of Covid. Kids need to be out, running around right now. But they’re not. There were never enough fields before, but when Covid is over, there is going to be a real challenge to find space for kids to play.”
Williams says the long-promised public park component to the city-owned El Corazon was never fulfilled. Williams says El Corazon does have 20 fully functioning soccer fields with adjacent parking on 97 acres, but that they are run by a private company working under the banner SoCal Sports Complex. He says the area kids who do get to play soccer at El Corazon generally come from families with means.
“We don’t charge kids $2,000 to play,” says Williams, comparing his rugby league to SoCal Soccer. “It is my understanding the kids who play there pay between $1500 and $3000 a year to play.”
Developer Sherman Whitmore is crying foul, saying the city should break its agreement with San Diego-based developer Sudberry Properties which has the El Corazon master lease with the city.
“Those soccer fields are basically private fields,” says Whitmore. “There are two other fields at El Corazon that they are supposed to provide to the public but the public can’t get to them.”
Whitmore says the Sudberry firm enjoys a one-sided relationship with Oceanside. “Sudberry doesn’t own anything. Yet they get to keep rent money from the SoCal Soccer, and they get to keep the money that’s collected from parking when there are soccer tournaments there. Yet what have they done to improve the property? I am proposing to make those two fields open to the public and to build another ten to 15 fields on top of that.”
Whitmore says he wants the city to buy out Sudberry’s El Corazon agreement and let him and his backers come in and build out the new fields as well as a hotel and a separate housing project.
Deputy city manager Jonathan Borrego admits that the two other fields should be available and that they eventually will be, but that Sudberry is not responsible. He says Sudberry’s lease with the city runs until 2039 but can be renewed until 2059. He says if the city council wanted to buy out that lease it would have to reimburse Sudberry for its lost revenue. “Sudberry is not out of compliance,” says Borrego.
Whitmore claims Sudberry is skating other El Corazon obligations including building a hotel. City planner Richard Greenbauer says there have been no submitted plans from Sudberry to build that hotel even though there has always been one in the master plans.
In February the city council approved a separate, four-story, 137-room hotel for El Corazon that would have been part of the Hilton chain. That hotel was lauded as El Corazon’s first big commercial venture. That deal fell apart when the Dallas developer, Mid Continent Hospitality, could not commit to the funding which was estimated to be in excess of $4 million, according to one insider. (That deal was orchestrated by Stirling Development which controls a small portion of the Sudberry property).
But a different El Corazon project still looks to be on track. Sean Bowers, general manager of the San Diego Sockers, says plans are still intact to build a sports-and-concert arena at El Corazon that will be anchored by the Sockers, the professional soccer team that for years played at the Pechanga Arena (long known as the San Diego Sports Arena). Bowers said that a new announcement made by the mayor’s office last month about keeping sports activities going at a new sports arena complex will not entice the Sockers to give up their Oceanside plans and stay at their longtime home in San Diego’s Midway district.
Bowers expects the Sockers' new Oceanside arena to be built next year will hold about 5500 for sports events and up to 8000 for music concerts. “The pandemic has not diminished our enthusiasm for Oceanside. [Sockers owner] Phil Savagio still wants to own his own arena.”
Meanwhile plans are still afoot to launch a second new concert venue in North County next year. Del Mar Fair spokeswoman Jennifer Hellman says Covid has not impacted construction on The Center, the new 1900-capacity concert venue that is being built in the Surfside Race Place betting facility. She says construction will be completed in February and will be occupied once mass gathering restrictions are lifted.