By Alexander Nguyen
Despite assurances by Mayor Kevin Faulconer and by the new owners of Liberty Station, several community members were still not assuaged about the fate of North Chapel.
Pendulum Property Partners, a subsidiary of Seligman Group, announced Tuesday that it is taking over the management of the retail components of Liberty Station, which includes the restaurants, Arts District and North Chapel.
“Pendulum will add additional value through the continued activation of common areas as well as upgrading the tenant mix as leases expire,” the company said in a statement.
But what some community members are worried about is North Chapel. Before the sale, which was not publicly announced, Corky McMillin Cos. had floated the idea of turning the chapel into a restaurant. The two Catholic congregations that regularly hold services at the chapel were told to clear out by the end of the year.
Mayor Faulconer told Scott J. Seligman, the president of the Seligman Group, in a letter dated Dec. 3 that his “priority is to ensure the North Chapel is protected and maintained for future generations.”
“I am writing to confirm my serious concern about any alterations to the chapel’s historically protected characteristics,” Faulconer said in the letter. “I oppose any plan that affects the historic nature of the North Chapel and would encourage the City’s Historical Resources Board to do the same.”
Pendulum has already contracted 828 Venues to manage North Chapel as an event venue, “allowing for a wide range of community events throughout the week,” Pendulum managing partner Kevin Hays said in a letter also dated Dec. 3 to the Mayor and City Council’s Office.
“The venue will continue to be available for weddings, religious gatherings, performances, receptions, and a variety of other events, as permitted in the NTC Precise Plan,” Hays said in the letter.
The letters were shared by the Mayor’s office to community members who are fighting to keep North Chapel as a place of worship. It was the wording used by Pendulum that has Arlene Paraiso concerned. She’s been fighting for nearly a year now to keep the chapel just as it is.
Pendulum said it, as well as 828, have been reaching out to the two congregations to work out a deal so that both groups can continue to hold services there into 2019. Paraiso disputed that.
“As of today (Tuesday), we have not heard from 828 Venues — until we get a renewal of our rental at the same price, without a break in weekly service, crossing into 2019, my mind will not be at ease,” she said.
On Wednesday, Pendulum said 828 reached out to Paraiso and Torben Bruck from Our Lady of Fatima Parish on Monday about the two congregations continuing to hold their services at North Chapel. Paraiso is a coordinator at St. John Bosco Mission.
“We would like to meet with both of you at your earliest convenience to discuss the potential for you to continue to hold your faith celebrations and functions at the North Chapel in the future,” 828 CEO Tim Wirick said in an email to Paraiso and Bruck. The email was shared with Times of San Diego by Pendulum’s spokeswoman.
It was unclear if Paraiso received the email but she is concerned that 828 will gut the chapel. According to Paraiso, 828 has done so with other historic buildings. The company currently manages Brick, an event venue at Liberty Station. Paraiso said she is afraid that 828 will what it did to Brick, which is to tear it down to the studs.
Photos and the layout displayed on Brick’s website show an open-space, bare-bone brick building. Doing so to North Chapel would rob it of its history and significance, she said.
North Chapel was built in 1942 in memory of those who were lost in the Pearl Habor attack. It was also the place where many World War II sailors had their last service. Many did not return from the war.
Pendulum contends that 828 Venues’ plans for the chapel fall under the permitted use as approved by the City Council and the Coastal Commision in 2001 when it awarded McMillin the contract to redevelop the area.
The NTC Precise Plan, which was approved by the Peninsula Community Planning Board as well as the Planning Commission and the city’s Development Services staff, spells out exactly what uses are permitted at the chapel, said Brian Walker, a partner at Pendulum.
“The North Chapel Building is including in this plan as part of the Commercial District and uses approved for the North Chapel include, but are not limited to, eating and drinking establishments, assembly and entertainment, retail and office uses,” he told Times of San Diego.
Walker said many of the historic buildings at Liberty Station have been adapted for modern uses, such as the barracks, which are now offices and art studios.
On Tuesday, several community members went in front of the City Council to plead to the council to keep North Chapel just as it is. One of those members was Thomas E.K. Cerruti, the lawyer for San Diego philanthropist Darlene Shiley.
“Mrs. Shiley’s husband … might be appalled, if he were here today, to think that there might be a lack of respect shown here today by the city toward an historic chapel that has served our community for so long,” Cerruti said.
Shiley wants to keep the chapel as a place of worship and not “a commercial enterprise,” he told the council.
Elaine Boland, the wife of the late Rear Adm. Bruce Boland, said the chapel was a monument to the recruits at the former Naval Training Center who went off to war and paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“It would be a sacrilege to turn that sacred place of worship into some mundane venue,” she said. “Please help us save this chapel in honor of the service of all those who have gone before.”
Because the comments were made during non-agenda public comments, the City Council could not take up the issue then. Councilwoman Barbara Bry, however, said she was still unclear as to what Pendulum and 828 are going to do with the property.
“It’s clear that it needs to be preserved as it is with all the fixtures and in an affordable way to to the community,” she said.
In the letter Pendulum sent to the city, the company confirmed that it is going to renovate the chapel, though it was unclear to what extent. The company will need to file an application in order to make any changes.
Bry also pressed the City Attorney’s Office for an update to her request that the office looks into the North Chapel lease.
“We are expediting our research,” City Attorney Mara Elliot said. “We hope to have a response within the next couple of weeks.”
Updated at noon on Dec. 5, 2019.
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