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Local Contractors Worry They’ll Be Left Out Of $1.1B Chula Vista Waterfront Development

The long-planned and transformative redevelopment that would bring a hotel, convention center, commercial space and public amenities including 200 acres of parks, walking trails and other recreation space to the Chula Vista waterfront is moving full-steam ahead, slated to break ground as soon as next year.

But a small group of local Latino contractors is worried that area builders will be left out of the windfall of contracts and jobs that the construction of the crown jewel of the redevelopment — the $1.1B hotel and convention center — will bring. 

A rendering of the hotel and convention center project

Enrique Velez, a contractor and lifelong Chula Vista resident, said that he and a few others have been actively campaigning for a year and a half to get a firm commitment from the project’s decision-makers that a set number of contractors in the area — whether it is the city of Chula Vista, San Diego’s South Bay area or San Diego County — will get work as part of the hotel and convention center project.

For Velez, the effort to include local builders is also an effort to boost Latinx businesses and contractors, as Chula Vista is about 58% Hispanic or Latino, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. For San Diego County, the group makes up roughly 34% of the population.

The Chula Vista Bayfront project has been in the works for at least two decades and is a major development for the city and the area. In a 2019 editorial in The San Diego Union-Tribune, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas and Ann Moore, who represents Chula Vista on the Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners, wrote that the redevelopment would not only create a host of new public amenities but would attract more investment to the area, increasing property values for Chula Vista and all of the South Bay’s communities.

In 2018, the city of Chula Vista and the Port of San Diego selected a Texas-based developer, RIDA Development Corp., to turn an empty site into the centerpiece of the over 500-acre redevelopment: the Gaylord Pacific Resort Hotel and Convention Center, a 1,600-room hotel and more than 250K SF of convention space. The hotel would be managed by Gaylord Hotels, a Marriott International brand.

The construction of the hotel and convention portion of the project is currently expected to generate 3,480 jobs, and once the property is operational, approximately 3,900 permanent jobs overall, Casillas Salas wrote in an email to Bisnow.

As part of the partnership between the city, port and developer, the hotel and convention center project will receive $328M in public funds for the construction of the convention center and for new infrastructure for the project, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in February, when final details of the financing were approved.

The local contractors pushing for a local hire guarantee for the project’s construction argue that with so much public money going to the project, it makes sense for the public to receive concrete benefits from the project at all stages of development, not just once it is operational. 

Velez said he has had conversations with port officials and the mayor, and while both support and encourage local contractors being hired, they are not able to mandate it; only the developer can really make a decision to require or promise a set amount of local workers being taken onto the project. Velez said RIDA has spoken with him about this, but the conversations didn't yield any concrete, numerical guarantees to hire a set number of area contractors.

Even if only 10% of the subcontractors on the project were from the area, Velez said on a big-budget project like this, "that could change the trajectories of families."

RIDA didn't respond to Bisnow's requests for comment. 

A conceptual map shows the hotel and convention center as well as numerous other amenities and projects planned as part of the bayfront's transformation.

A spokesperson for the Port of San Diego acknowledged in an email that there is no local hire provision currently attached to this project but emphasized that RIDA and its general contractor, a joint venture between McCarthy Building Cos. and M.A. Mortenson Co., have made a number of efforts to reach out to the local subcontractor community.

In addition to advertising the project in a number of publications and conducting its own research on potentially qualified candidates in the area, the JV held a virtual meeting in December aimed at subcontractors that was attended by over 550 people and one in June specifically aimed at disadvantaged local contractors that was attended by over 70 people. There is also an open prequalification on the joint venture’s website that will help connect qualified bidders to future opportunities on the project. 

When asked how much control the port has over the hiring aspect of the project at this point in the process, the spokesperson said RIDA and its contractor are responsible for selecting subcontractors and delivering the project. 

Casillas Salas said that the issue of local and diverse representation among subcontractors for the project came up during the developer selection process, and from the beginning, RIDA said it was committed to including local workers in the project's construction. Like the port, Chula Vista doesn't have specific local hire requirements, so it didn't impose one on this project.

Asked if the concerns from local contractors like Velez have merit, Salas wrote, "Those fears are unfounded. The outreach efforts to local contractor groups have been substantial and are ongoing."

Francisco Estrada, chief of staff for the mayor, said that the mayor is very interested in seeing local businesses and minority businesses participate in the project, noting as port officials did the two meetings that have been held so far to connect with local builders.

"Ultimately, we see a lot of benefits to the community as a whole to come from this, but we want local folks to be part of a building of it," Estrada said. 

Velez didn't dispute that there were outreach meetings from the general contractor but said that outreach isn't a substitute for a guarantee that a set dollar amount or percentage of work will go to local builders and construction professionals. 

“When they say they are making a good faith effort, it doesn’t mean much,” Velez said. "The barometer is contracts."