Whitepaper: 06.15.2014

Waterfront Destination

San Diego County Administration Center Waterfront Park
Prime San Diego waterfront property is transformed into city’s newest civic treasure.

“This new Waterfront Park will serve as the ‘front porch’ of downtown San Diego’s North Embarcadero, and become one of our city’s civic treasures -- now and in generations to come.”
-- Ron Roberts San Diego County supervisor

Thousands of San Diego residents and visitors alike turned out recently for a daylong slate of festivities celebrating the grand opening of the new San Diego County Administration Center Waterfront Park, located on a prime, 12-acre site along Pacific Coast Highway between Ash and Grape streets in downtown San Diego.

McCarthy led the successful execution of the $49.4 million design-build project. The team included SGPA, architect-of-record; Schmidt Design, landscape architect of record; Aquatic Design Group, fountain designer; and IPD (International Parking Design) for the parking portion of the project. The project broke ground in fall 2012, and was completed on time.

The San Diego County Administration Center Waterfront Park development project converted the large eight-acre, on-grade parking lots north and south of the historic Administration Center and the immediate outdoor areas west and east of the building to a large, 12-acre community and regional open space amenity. The park encompasses a promenade, two expansive greens, themed specialty gardens, plazas and terraces, a picnic area, shade trees and palm groves, a large children’s playground and public restrooms. It also includes a single-level, subterranean parking garage located off Ash Street that accommodates 251 cars.

San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who championed the park project for over 15 years, commented, “I could not be more proud to see this project become reality for the more than a million guests expected to visit and enjoy it each year.”

The central design element of the park are lighted fountains that run a total of 830 feet long on either side of the County Administration Building, with 31 jets that shoot water 14 feet up into the air and down into shallow splash areas for children. The north side of the building has four basins with 18 jets, while the south side has three basins with 13 jets. The fountains are electronically equipped to operate in four different modes, depending on the time of day and weather conditions, with basins dry, jets only, jets plus reflecting pools, or reflecting pools alone. 

“The fountains originally were designed to be constructed of granite, but we were able to lower material costs significantly by proposing the basins be constructed of exposed aggregate concrete with granite chips, which produced a very aesthetically pleasing outcome,” said McCarthy Project Director Lee Sudhoff. “Prior to constructing the fountains, we built a 40-foot by 40-foot mockup that allowed us to test the materials and perfect the design and mechanical aspects so there would be no glitches or delays during actual construction.”

Located to the north of the County Administration Center are two-and-a-half acres of specialty gardens, grouped into three distinct themes. The Grass and Mediterranean gardens display a wide variety of drought-tolerant, native and well-adapted species of plants and shrubs, while the Diversity Garden showcases cycads and other plant varieties that have a lush, tropical appeal yet are adaptable to San Diego’s arid climate and low- to moderate-use water requirements. Trees scattered throughout provide shade and give vertical contrast, while shrubs lend human scale.

Woven throughout the specialty gardens are pathways with benches where visitors can meander and pause to take in the beauty of the gardens as well as views toward the bay, afforded by the higher elevation of the garden area. A platform provides the ideal setting for weddings and other private ceremonies.

An intricate, high-tech subsurface drip irrigation and drainage system built below the gardens contains rain sensors and provides a means for utilizing rain runoff. The system will help maintain ideal soil conditions for all of the gardens year around.  

Located south of the County Administration Center is the ocean-themed, one-plus-acre children’s play area, featuring swirling concrete pathways; two large grass knolls; and three large mounds of vivid-blue, rubberized, resilient surfacing and a wide assortment of unique playground equipment for children of all ages. Decomposed granite was used to surface the remainder of the pathways. Trees surround the playground’s perimeter and seating areas.

"We have reclaimed the waterfront," said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. "It was a parking space; now it’s a people space."

Originally built in 1938, the historic San Diego County Administration Center has stood on the San Diego bay front, welcoming residents and visitors alike and symbolizing the ideals of public service. The McCarthy design-build team was hired to navigate any issues related to the County Administration Center’s historical building status and ensure consistency of integration and integrity.

As part of this project, the west side of the building was given all new terracing, railings, retaining walls, landscape and exposed aggregate concrete where the original aggregate concrete had to be removed to accommodate installation of the fountain chiller lines, which run the entire length of the site from north to south. The east side of the building was also given new ADA ramps, steel railings and landscaping.

McCarthy also relocated the delicate, 10-foot-long, etched glass San Diego Regional Law Enforcement Memorial from the south side of the building to the west side. New outdoor public restrooms are designed to achieve LEED Silver Certification. Several massive groves of palm trees were carefully moved in their entirety to different locations on the open greens.

Site work also included all related underground building systems, which entailed decommissioning the existing energy plant and building a new 6,400-square-foot, underground energy plant to the north of the County Administration Center. Building Information Modeling (BIM) was used to navigate this portion of the work. 

Hargreaves Associates prepared the master plan and bridging documents for the new County of San Diego Administration Center Waterfront Park, eliciting public input during the early phases of design. Other consultants included Jessen-Wright as the structural engineer, Nasland as the civil engineer, Sparling as the electrical engineer, MA Engineers as the mechanical engineer, and G Force as the environmental engineer.

Subcontractors involved in the project included ValleyCrest Landscape Companies, Outside the Lines, Marne Construction, Concrete Contractors Interstate, Bergelectric, University Mechanical, Paul Hansen Equipment, and Sierra Pacific.

sign up to receive insights

Sign up to receive McCarthy Insights