Officials broke ground Jan. 5 on the $28.6 million first phase of improvements to the North Embarcadero waterfront district in downtown San Diego.

A morning public ceremony marked the start of the project aimed at revitalizing an area on North Harbor Drive, from Navy Pier to the B Street Pier, and a portion of West Broadway.

The North Embarcadero Visionary Plan Phase I is part of a comprehensive long-term project to beautify the waterfront and create new public open space welcoming residents and tourists. The project also includes significant improvements to roadways, utilities and storm water systems.

When completed, a 105-foot wide esplanade will adorn the waterfront, with formal gardens, plazas, shade pavilions and a waterfront promenade. Drip irrigation will be used to water drought-tolerant plants, and the project has the ability to use reclaimed water in the future, according to a statement from the Port of San Diego.

Storm water drainage improvements will provide a water treatment system along the bay front esplanade on North Harbor Drive, preventing pollution from entering the bay.

Featured public art includes internationally acclaimed artist Pae White’s designs, which will be integrated into the project’s architecture. White’s work will be visible in the shapes of a café building and an information center that are included in the project.

The North Embarcadero project will accommodate transportation options, with shuttle bus stops, bicycle storage and access to the nearby Santa Fe Depot and trolley stops.

The project is a joint effort of the port district, Centre City Development Corp. and the City of San Diego’s Redevelopment Agency. USS Cal Builders was awarded the first-phase construction contract in November, and the work is expected to be completed in summer 2013.

— Lou Hirsh