Is San Diego’s East Harbor Island a good spot for Topgolf?

The Port of San Diego has signaled its approval of a Topgolf driving range on waterfront land.

Port commissioners had previously panned the idea of giving the company an 8.5-acre site on East Harbor Island — a premium site on the water.

This week, commissioners seemingly changed their mind, saying Harbor Island could use more attractions. Right now, much of the area where Topgolf would go is leased by car rental companies for storage.

Other recent efforts to redevelop Harbor Island have fallen through. Developer OliverMcMillan backed out of a plan to redo 48 acres of land and water with a hotel, boatel and retail project.

Q: Is East Harbor Island a good spot for Topgolf?

Kelly Cunningham, San Diego Institute for Economic Research

NO: There must be better, more public friendly uses of the unique waterfront location. The golfing industry, Callaway, and Topgolf are clearly welcome in San Diego’s year-round recreationally focused atmosphere and epicenter for technology driven innovation but putting the tech-focused driving range on the best portion of waterfront land with prime views of the bay and downtown does not seem a best use. It would more appropriately be located elsewhere in the region even on Harbor Island.

Lynn Reaser, economist

YES: It would be a unique attraction, bolstering the tourist appeal of San Diego. The technology aspect means that it will not just be a golf range. The eating and drinking features will be additional amenities. Use as a hotel/restaurant venue would have been better, but regulatory hurdles have been too high. It certainly will be a better use than a rental car facility.

Phil Blair, Manpower

NO: Without knowing the exact locations that are being discussed, oceanfront property seems like a misuse of a great asset. But if the location is one that is of no interest to any hotel, restaurant or a new open area park then a revenue earning golf facility is much better than a dirt lot.

Gary London, London Moeder Advisors

YES: Firstly, I must acknowledge that my firm conducted the economic analysis for Topgolf, which spoke to the economic upside of such a project. It is significant. Most port hotels went dark during the pandemic, and for the second time in this century (including 9/11). Economic diversification is critical, and Topgolf is an ideal way to catalyze activity and utilization of Harbor Island. Certainly, the current rental car operation is a waste of space.

Alan Gin, University of San Diego

NO: Land bordering the water, whether it is the ocean or a bay, is limited and needs to be used carefully. The location in question on East Harbor Island is a premium one and better use can be made of it than the Topgolf operation. A natural choice would be something nautically oriented. Another possibility is just leaving the land as open space that all residents could enjoy without paying a fee. That is also something that is in short supply.

Bob Rauch, R.A. Rauch & Associates

YES: For those of us who have watched deal after deal get quashed at Harbor Island for years, it’s time to build something that has a proven track record. Topgolf is a high-quality entertainment venue that allows for non-golfers and golfers alike to eat, drink, hit golf balls and just have fun. Ideal for conventioneers, tourists and locals, this is a massive improvement over the current parking lots and will complement local development.

James Hamilton, UC San Diego

Not participating this week.

Austin Neudecker, Weave Growth

YES: I would support additional attractions on the waterfront provided they improve bayfront access for the public and leases are set at market rates. There was talk of gifting or discounting the land which feels suspect given the amazing location. Secondarily, I would assess if the design serves as an eye-sore and if adequate transportation options are included. Beyond that, a Topgolf facility and additional hotels paying fair prices for the land use make sense.

Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health

NO: It’s just a personal opinion, but I think there are better uses for oceanfront property than a driving range and more opportunity to generate more tourists and income to the community. I doubt tourists are going to say they want to visit San Diego for the driving range. We might be better off putting attractive housing on the property than using 8 acres for a driving range, especially given the need for more housing in San Diego.

Norm Miller, University of San Diego

YES: East Harbor is near tourist central and will complement existing amenities in the area like Midway. It appears to be a highly productive use of the land, capable of being self-supporting as opposed to the numerous proposals that require subsidies, and it leaves sufficient land for other intensive uses.

Jamie Moraga, IntelliSolutions

YES: Topgolf is a fun attraction for both residents and tourists. With locations across the country, Topgolf offers hitting bays, a sports bar, restaurant, mini golf, and event facilities. Add in beautiful views and a location near the airport, it will be a fun San Diego destination for both adults and families to enjoy. This location also offers a diversification of amenities along our port lands that allow for additional development. It will be exciting to have Topgolf come to San Diego, especially since it is owned by Carlsbad’s Callaway Golf Company.

David Ely, San Diego State University

NO: Topgolf could be very successful at this location and would likely attract both tourists and local residents. However, East Harbor Island is prime real estate and it is doubtful that this project covering 8.5 acres is the best use of this valuable resource. A Topgolf facility built at another location in San Diego could still be a wonderful entertainment venue even if it didn’t have a view of the city skyline.

Ray Major, SANDAG

NO: Waterfront public lands are a rare commodity, and they should be used in a way that maximizes the general public’s use of it. Although, I am a huge proponent of redeveloping the bayfront, dedicating 8.5 acres of prime land for a driving range seems to unfairly benefit the few over the many. Commissioners should consider universally appealing projects so that all San Diegans can enjoy the amenities developed on public lands.

Caroline Freund, UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy

YES: The proposed location is currently serving as a parking lot, so the Topgolf deal will put the land to more productive use. Meanwhile, San Diego gets investment, jobs, and a new attraction.

Haney Hong, San Diego County Taxpayers Assoc.

Not participating this week.

Have an idea for an EconoMeter question? Email me at [email protected]. Follow me on Twitter: @PhillipMolnar

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