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Friday, Nov 25, 2022
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Horton Plaza Redevelopment Nearing Completion

Like a colorful butterfly slowly emerging from its cocoon, the transformation of Horton Plaza from a fortress-like shopping mall to a grand, wide-open development that embraces its neighbors with inviting parks, retail shops and office and lab space is readily apparent.

Sean Slater
Principal
RDC

“This is a chance for it to really live up to its promise,” said Sean Slater, principal of RDC, the Los Angles architectural firm overseeing the design of what is one of the largest urban redevelopment projects in the country.

Completion of the exterior of project by Stockdale Capital Partners of Los Angeles is expected by the end of the year, with portions of the campus released to tenants in early 2023 so they can begin work on the interior spaces, said Jimmy Parker, director of culture initiative at Stockdale.

By early November, the work had reached the stage where the outline of what is to come was clearly visible.

A Beautiful Sunlit Space

Gone are the zig-zagging concrete ramps and bridges that connected the different levels and buildings in a maze that could be confusing to navigate, creating a new look the opens the project from one end to the other.

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“The design of the old mall and the parking garage was deliberately confusing in a way to encourage shoppers to linger and browse,” Slater said.

Among the more dramatic changes, five floors were added to the former Nordstrom building, creating a 10-story structure with floor-to ceiling windows carved out of what had been windowless concrete walls.

Jimmy Parker
Director of Culture Initiative
Stockdale Capital Partners

Parker said that the former Nordstrom’s is “really the cornerstone or flagship” of the new campus.

The 389,000-square-foot building was designed for life science tenants with 17-foot-tall ceilings and floorplates of 40,000 square feet. It also will include 17,000 square feet of retail space.

With most of the surrounding buildings four-stories or less in height, there’s a clear view from the old Nordstrom to the south to the bay and the east to the mountains.

“It’s just a beautiful sunlit space,” Slater said.

Gathering Space

What had been the front of the former Meryvn’s building in the shopping mall has been taken down and reshaped into semi-circle to create a clearing that will become a pocket park.

“The clearing allows light to get deep into the building,” Slater said, adding that a living walls of plants on the interior and exterior of the glass-enclosed lobby “kind of blurs the walls where the actual glass line is.”

“By pulling the glass line way back and then terracing inside that clearing, it allows a lot of sun and air to sort of activate this space and get into this lobby, which is seen as a gathering space for office workers and some public activities,” Slater added.

Designed with tech and retail tenants in mind, the 256,000-square-foot, five-story former Mervyn’s will have 205,000 square feet of office space, 51,000 square feet of retail space with floor plates of 50,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet.

Opportunities

In all, the renovated campus is projected to have 683,000 square feet of office and life science space and 264,000 square feet of retail space.

Still to be determined is what will become of the area that had been a movie theatre, although Parker said Stockton is amenable to keeping it as a theater.

“It’s an absolutely great space for a movie theater and we’d love to have it,” Parker said. “We’ll find a great use there. We have plenty of people interested in it.”

Among those interested is a fitness club that would extend the space to include the roof of the parking garage, Parker said.

So far, the former Macy’s has been untouched, left much as it was when the department store closed with many of the display cases still in place.

Renovating Macy’s will be a second phase of the overall project, Parker said.

The building was left as-is because at the time that Stockdale Capital received financing in March 2020, there was a possibility that Macy’s would keep the store open, Parker said.

“It’s a huge box, so there’s a lot of opportunities,” Slater said.

In the meantime, the building was used as a construction staging area.

Changing Face

Pedestrian entrances and exits to the parking garage have been redone. Gone are the fruit and vegetable designations for the different floors of the garage, replaced with numbers that correspond to the levels of the rest of the campus.

“We really want to clean up that experience,” Slater said.

The layout of the campus is arranged so retail and restaurant space is concentrated on the north end, shifting more to office tenants toward the south end of the mall.

The concrete plaza along Broadway at the north entrance to the new campus will be replaced with a landscaped park, with food vendors along the west side and in what was known as the Bradley building at the west edge of the plaza.

“This is really what changes the face of Horton Plaza to open out to the neighborhood with a park space,” Parker said. “This is supposed to be the community segment for this part of downtown.”

The steps that form an amphitheater in the park have been retained.

“That’s a very nice thing because it allows us to hold events in that space and have built-in seating,” Slater said.

Drop-off Zone

The building at the end of the area that once had a pharmacy on the bottom floor has been remodeled with an eye to attracting a retail tenants.

Concrete stairs that led from the ground level on Broadway Circle were kept but narrowed.

The area at the top of the steps “will be filled with a lot of retail kiosks as well as chairs, tables, probably coffee stands – things like that – so it’s kind of meant to be a retail experience,” Slater said.

“Wherever we have public areas, we want to make sure that people feel that they can stay, that they can be part of the environment rather than just sort of rush through,” Slater said.

From the top of the steps, there’s a clear view through the campus.

A Pythias Lodge building that had been a Levi’s store adjacent to the steps will be restored and will likely be used as office and retail space, Slater said.

At the very south end, there are plans to bring in a restaurant and a food market to activate that side of the center. There also will be a small cut-out park on First Avenue with space for ride sharing and taxi cab drop offs.

“A drop off zone has been carved out in what had been a concrete plaza in front of the 24-Hour Fitness,” Parker said. “We’re going to have a full-service restaurant along First Avenue on the corner of a building that once housed 24-Hour Fitness.”

The drop-off zone at street level will lead to a newly landscaped area and a series of steps, kept from the original design, to the first level of the former mall, Parker said.

Several health-care companies are looking at the space over above what had been the fitness club.

“We’d like to have them here. That’s a tremendous amenity,” Parker said. “We have brought them in and shown them the property.”

Retail Prospects

No leases have been signed yet, but Parker said negotiations are ongoing, including “with a couple of major providers on the retail side,” although he wouldn’t name them.

Between January 2021 and October 2022, 175 retailers had toured the property, according to Parker.

“That’s how much interest there is in the downtown market for retail,” Parker said. “We’re going to see a second renaissance of downtown for retail.”

Matt Berres
Vice Chairman
Newmark Capital Markets

Matt Berres, Newmark Capital Markets vice chairman, said that the retail side of the Horton Campus is the kind of space that retail investors are looking for coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic in an uncertain economy.

With the prospects of active foot traffic from the offices and labs expected in Horton, “It has a pretty solid outlook,” Berres said. “As we’re kind of going through what could be kind of a recessionary time, you typically see these retailers zero in on infill, densely populated locations, which is exactly what we’re talking about here.”

Downtown advocates see Horton Campus as a critical factor in what they hope will be a job center to complement the downtown residential development of the past decade.

Betsy Brennan
President and CEO
Downtown San Diego Partnership

“It’s an incredibly exciting time for downtown and the Campus at Horton is a major contributor to that feeling of the bright future ahead,” said Betsy Brennan, president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership.

“Its mixture of Class A, highly amenitized space with average floor plates of 40,000-60,000 sq. ft. brings an opportunity for large tenants to consider downtown in a way they may not have before,” Brennan said. “When paired with thoughtful construction focused on sustainability and digital connectivity, the property is also well-positioned for tenants in the tech or life science space where demand is out-pacing supply in other San Diego County submarkets. Not to mention the new energy and opportunities the building and its future tenants will bring to our downtown neighborhoods.”

Stockdale Capital Partners

Founded: 2010
Managing Principals: Steven Yari and Shawn Yari
Headquarters: Los Angeles
Employees: 80
Website:  www.stockdalecapital.com
Contact: 310-693-4400
Notable:  The company has a history of transforming failed shopping centers into desirable high-tech, mixed-use office hubs including  the Galleria in Scottsdale.

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