By Adela de la Torre
The upcoming groundbreaking for SDSU Mission Valley will be a multi-generational milestone. It is well known that the site promises to expand San Diego State University’s educational, research and entrepreneurial missions to meet the needs of the southernmost region of California for the next 100 years. But it’s so much more than that.
Absolutely, SDSU Mission Valley will be of great value for the City of San Diego. It is poised to contribute an economic lifeline for higher education and become a model for California and regional universities nationwide. It will promote financially essential public-private partnerships, and possibly even help the nation better prepare for the next pandemic.
This is one of the moments for which initiatives like SDSU Mission Valley exist.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial picture for the California State University system has dimmed. Unlike the state’s K-12 public schools and community colleges, CSU has no constitutional armor against budget cuts or vicissitudes of the business cycle. The CSU budget for 2020-21, the beginning of three years of expected pain, is down nearly $300 million from 2019-20. SDSU is taking a $35 million hit, not including unfunded new costs related to the pandemic.
The need for new streams of revenue to support higher education have become more urgent. Not all colleges and universities will make it out of this most recent period of financial turmoil. It’s not at all too early to dream of SDSU Mission Valley’s contributions. It is a self-supporting project, with the revenues generated by the site repaying the bonds which supported its development, and public-private partnerships leveraging private sector financing. Critically, in the long term, it will also contribute to easing SDSU’s overall reliance on the state allocation for operating revenue.
This is not a distant dream. The urgency of the need is felt today, and we are breaking ground this month. San Diegans will be watching the 2022 football season from the first multi-use stadium complex built to accommodate pandemic-related enhanced safety features from day one. The community assets that dramatically improve the Mission Valley region are also part of the immediate work, with planning for academic spaces and the innovation district thereafter.
The site construction will also have an economic multiplier effect in San Diego, as the stadium lot fills with bulldozers and graders, cement mixers and cranes and skilled laborers. In addition to Aztec Stadium and the community-serving River Park, they will prepare the site for the future construction of: 15 buildings to support education, research, technology and entrepreneurial activity; 18 buildings to provide 4,600 housing units for students, faculty, staff and the general public; and a hotel that will attract academically-oriented meetings and conferences. The site will also have restaurants, a grocery store and neighborhood-serving shops.
Imagine future scientists joining industry partners to expand on the laboratory work of viral ecologist Forest Rohwer and Naveen Vaidya, an expert in computer modeling, who received a grant from the National Science Foundation this year to explore how the coronavirus spreads in the environment.
SDSU’s graduate programs in the School of Public Health were ranked No. 23 in the latest assessment by U.S. News & World Report, and its researchers are frequent partners with San Diego County health officials. Today their laboratories are incongruously housed in Hardy Memorial Tower, a Works Progress Administration building constructed in 1931. Their urgent investigations could make good use of a 21st century upgrade.
And a pointed example: In 2018, SDSU’s Engineering and Interdisciplinary Sciences Complex propelled the university into a multidisciplinary approach to engineering, science and entrepreneurship and advancing SDSU toward its goal of a more national role in public research. The Innovation District may house the equivalent of many similar efforts. It won’t be all test tubes and telescopes. Another SDSU strength is in film and theater arts — they, too, need space to grow and help propel students into a multibillion-dollar entertainment industry.
Having additional, modern educational offerings meets the needs for students and employers of the future. Let’s all be reminded: In November 1983, San Diego civic leaders presented voters with a ballot measure to construct a new downtown convention center. It passed and the city never looked back.
Decades from now, SDSU Mission Valley will be the signature project that defines the future not only for our university, but for the future of higher education.
Adela de la Torre, Ph.D., is president of San Diego State University.
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