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Centre City Downtown becomes a prominent residential community

Downtown San Diego has emerged as one of the county’s fastest-growing housing development market.

At the end of 2000, there were some 4,000 units under way, being processed or proposed for construction in the 1,500-acre redevelopment district alone. Proposals are being drafted that would allow apartments and condos to be built in Downtown San Diego’s historic Bankers Hill.

According to Peter Hall, president of Centre City Development Corp., which plans, facilitates and manages Downtown redevelopment for the city, at least 20 percent of the housing permits pulled in the county over a 12-month period ending mid-2001 will be those for construction Downtown.

In 1982, the Marina Park and Park Row condos opened as Downtown San Diego’s first redevelopment-era, market-rate, for-sale housing. Planners and developers doubted that San Diegans would like dense, high-rise housing projects reminiscent of New York, Chicago or San Francisco. The Meridian, completed a few years later, remained Downtown’s sole condominium tower for a decade.


– Goals To Be Met And Surpassed

Today, Downtown San Diego is home to some 20,000 residents, and CCDC’s goal of 50,000 residents by 2025 will likely occur earlier than anticipated.

“The ‘new’ San Diego is definitely breaking from its old patterns, and it will improve the neglected portion of the urban scene, where the infrastructure already exists,” said Sanford Goodkin, chairman of Sanford R. Goodkin & Associates of San Diego. “Today, urban housing stands for residential in existing urban neighborhoods , which also are the natural places for in-fill housing on skipped and or underused lots with too little density,” Goodkin said.

There are early a dozen “skipped” lots in the Marina District, where more than 1,200 condos and apartments are under way or approved for construction. By mid-decade, the Marina District should be built out.

Development opportunities in the district have attracted out-of-town companies that are now among Downtown’s most prolific. These include Vancouver, British Columbia-based BOSA Development Corp., for whom Roel Construction Co. is completing a two-tower, 211-condominium project for occupancy in 2001 and whose 178-condominium Park Place is approved for development across from Seaport Village.


– Two Condominium Projects Under Way

Northwest’s Intracorp has two condo projects under way , 235 on Market and also Crown Bay , while a third, the 57-condo Pacific Terrace, has been approved.

All Downtown San Diego projects must adhere to design guidelines. The six-story Pacific Terrace, however, had to follow Marina District guidelines as well as those of the Asian-Pacific Thematic Historic District and adjacent Gaslamp Quarter National Historic District.

“Both historic districts have unique design characteristics that we need to respect, complement and ‘capture’ without copying,” said architect Michael LaBarre, managing partner of Fehlman LaBarre Architects & Planners. “The site’s architectural heritage, including land uses, design styles and building materials, are respected in the design of Pacific Terrace.”

Other Marina District projects include the 109-unit CityWalk, 218-condominium Renaissance twin towers and the 151-apartment Marina Place, all of which are under construction.

Plans are also in the works for a KUSI-TV development, which will include office space and a TV studio for Fox Channel 6 affiliate, 194 apartments and space for stores and restaurants.

North of the Marina District is the Columbia neighborhood, which will offer urban housing amid its commercial backdrop. Here, Intergulf Development Group of Vancouver is building Treo@Kettner, a full block, 338-unit project with condos and live-work row homes while Bosa will develop Santa Fe Condos, a pair of 40-story towers bringing 211 units to Pacific Highway between A and C streets.


– Apartments To Be Built This Spring

Between Columbia and Little Italy, Watt Commercial Properties of Los Angeles and its San Diego development partner, American National Assets Inc., expect to break ground this spring for a block-square development of 389 rental apartments, including three-story “brownstone” live-work townhomes wrapping a pair of 20-story towers.

The company said the project is being designed to be a transition between the office high-rises of Columbia and higher density housing under way in Little Italy. It will be Downtown’s largest apartment project to open since the Seabridge Apartment Villas in 1992.

The Core District lies between Columbia and Little Italy to the west, and the Cortez Hill District to the east. Residential development largely has been limited to rental lofts created in rehabilitated commercial buildings.

This year, American Nation Investments will create rental live-work lofts above the House of Blues nightclub. Later in the year, Los Angeles-based CIM Group’s rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the historic Owl Drugstore and Walker-Scott Building is expected to add more live-work lofts.

The Cortez Hill District near Downtown celebrated the long-awaited renovation of the landmark El Cortez Hotel into luxury apartments in mid-2000. The project was a catalyst for many new projects. The Heritage Apartments, with 230 rentals over two blocks, is scheduled for completion this summer. Bosa’s Discovery at Cortez Hill, a 199-unit, 22-story project is under way while more than 200 additional condominium or apartment units are approved for the area.

Projects including Columbia/Elm Loft apartments, Son of Kettner and The Waterfront have recently been completed in Little Italy. Village Walk, Porto Sienna and the final phase of the Little Italy Neighborhood Development Project, an affordable housing development, are under construction in that district. Approved for development is The Park at Little Italy with 163 apartments and Bella Via with 31 condos.


– Gaslamp Buildings Renovated For Homes

In densely built areas like the Gaslamp Quarter, property owners have found ways to add rental units through renovation of existing buildings. Improvements are being made to the William Tell Hotel and The Pipestone Building to create new apartments.

Locally based Douglas Wilson Cos.’ Parkloft is the first large-scale project under way in Downtown’s East Village. The development will include 300 loft condos.

Another major player in East Village’s residential revolution will be JMI Realty, which is responsible for the new Ballpark District’s ancillary development.

Working closely with the East Village Association and CCDC, JMI Realty is refining the design for a multiblock, mixed-use residential/commercial project that could include several rental and for-sale housing types geared to different incomes. It is a development for which planners and East Village residents are supporting, lest Downtown prices outpace moderate-income households and those of lesser means.

Douglas Austin, founder and chairman of San Diego development firm Austin Veum Robbins Parshalle, leads an Urban Housing and Mixed-Use Group that is working with the Olson Co. of Seal Beach on studies regarding multiblock mixed-use developments in East Village, Columbia District, Little Italy and the Children’s Museum in the Marina District.


– Firms Design For Character

In each case, Austin said, he and colleagues look not only for maximum density, but also to the design imagery of the neighborhood , its history, uses and other physical and community characteristics.

“We have to develop a sense of character and feel in relation to the immediate neighbors in the district,” he said. “Whether we are working on luxury, market rate or affordable housing, we are thinking and designing outside the box.”

Austin Veum Robbins Parshalle is designing an urban residential project named Park Laurel on the Prado for the Bankers Hill area near Balboa Park. The twin-tower development will consist of 94 large, luxurious condos and townhomes for which Nielsen Dillingham Builders Inc. will break ground this month.

Robert Lawrence, a principal of project developer Park Laurel LLC, sees Park Laurel on the Prado as complementary to, not competitive with, the upscale housing under way Downtown.

“We feel that the Park Laurel block is the best developable parcel in metropolitan San Diego,” he said. “It’s the only fully developable block next to Balboa Park, so it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

While not every San Diegan can afford such luxury, CCDC points out that such Downtown suburbs as Sherman Heights, Grant Hill, Golden Hill, Logan Heights and Barrio Logan have nearby affordable housing stock.

“Our Downtown is exceptional in potential because our weather and San Diego Bay are fantastic amenities,” Goodkin said. “With more population in improving environments, with a growing variety of cultural and recreational amenities, more people are willing to office and live within the urban scene.”

But, he cautions, “The danger is always that affordable housing is not part of the developmental equation. Urban development in Downtown San Diego must include housing for all segments of the population.”

Brochures on Downtown’s housing and approved future housing are available at CCDC’s Downtown Information Center located at 225 Broadway or online at (www.ccdc.com).

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