This week, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to approve CCDC’s proposal to swap future payments on Westfield’s financial commitment on split revenues from Horton Plaza rents and the parking structure, for a grant of land to the Redevelopment Agency. The concept
“Horton Plaza” means many things to long time residents. Prior to the 1980’s, it meant a decrepit and uninviting public space. After 100 million dollars in investment spearheaded by Ernest Hahn and re-packaged in the 1980’s, it meant one of the great urban shopping centers in the country at that time. By 2014, it will mean the redevelopment of a grand new public space. I am pleased to see this turn of events, the expansion of the current postage stamp called “Horton Plaza” as it is something that I have advocated publicly for the past three years.
But places like Horton Plaza, Gaslamp, and the place closest to my heart, Little Italy, are brands or concepts that rise and fall based upon dynamic growth or deterioration and management of the assets of that district.
I try not to use the word “Downtown” or “Village” since they perhaps the most misused word in the US vocabulary. There are 83,000 cities in the US and probably half of them have a “Downtown” which renders the word meaningless. More recently, the term “Village” has been used to alter the character of slowly revitalizing urban districts.
The term “Downtown” was invented in Manhattan in the 1800s and Downtown could only be understood relative to “MidTown” and “Uptown”. Today it means an accumulation of high density office, two story or greater, retail and civic space in the urban core areas of small and large cities like.
But San Diego’s Center City, Urban Core, or Downtown is not one thing, it is many things. Following the idea of overuse of phrases or names, the term “Main Street” or “Broadway” also lacks any distinction or character. This is certainly true of our Center City Broadway today.
However, lets look at a new concept of our Broadway. Think of the renewed and expanded Horton Plaza as the east end anchor, and the Broadway Pier as the west end anchor. The expanded Horton Plaza in 2014 will be surrounding by 4 live theatres, as well as the magnificent structures of the Balboa Theatre, the US Grant and the Spreckles Building (not to mention Horton Plaza Shopping Center and NBC Plaza). The link between the new conceptualized Horton Plaza and the Broadway Pier will be a grand pedestrian walkway, approximately a ½ mile in length of flat surface, magnificently landscaped sidewalks. Think of the Magnificent Mile in Chicago or Park Avenue in New York to envision this new “Beau Broadway” concept.
This one act, of physically and visually linking the new expanded Horton Plaza with the new revised Broadway Pier and accompanying grand public space at the foot of Broadway, could become the great urban public space that Center City San Diego deserves and needs.
So our concept of “Horton Plaza,” “Downtown” and “Broadway” would all be permanently altered and would conjure up wonderful images to residents, employees, businesses and visitors alike . This is exactly what has happened in Little Italy and to some extent, Gaslamp, in the last ten years.
Good concepts draw good investment and accompanying development. People would want to live, visit, relocate their businesses or work around a dynamic, well managed and ever-changing grand public spaces. After years of playing defense in trying to fix the finances of this City, wouldn’t that new idea and concept be refreshing!
by Marco Li Mandri, New City America, Inc.