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Development — City Heights Urban Village: A Catalyst for Change

In a perfect world, urban residents and developers work together to create a community so unique that when the last construction fence is removed everybody is happy.

According to those connected with the City Heights Urban Village development, this world exists today east of Downtown San Diego.

“City Heights Urban Village has become a catalyst for positive change, not only in the physical aspect but as a signal to homeowners that it is a safe, wholesome and good place to live. It also sends a message to large investors that it is the place to be,” said William D. Jones, president and CEO of CityLink Investment Corp.

CityLink is a San Diego-based, for-profit group which acquires, develops and manages real estate ventures in urban areas with capital supplied by corporations, foundations and individuals.

“This is the most unique urban development in the country,” Jones said.

– Complex Pre-Leased

With Major Tenants

In the next 30 days, construction will begin on the shopping center phase of the master planned community. The project is already over 90 percent pre-leased with major tenants like Albertson’s, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Hollywood Video, Kragen, Washington Mutual and Scripps Health. Still to come is the $9 million multi-use office complex with approximately 120 townhomes being developed by the San Diego Revitalization Corp., a nonprofit entity started by Sol Price.

“This is a significant turnaround for a community that struggled through the 1990s,” Jones said. In 1993, Jones, with then CityLink partner Sol Price, looked for a comparable master-planned community in the heart of any inner-city and could not find the blueprint they sought. Learning from projects in Cleveland, Newark, N.J., and Washington, D.C., they approached San Diegans for the answers.

In 1994, Jones said the area faced several problems.

“Businesses were leaving City Heights, as there was no direct freeway access. Caltrans was going through the wholesale land transfer for Highway 15, but there would be no freeway construction until years later,” Jones said.

“There was no urban planning being done while residential density tripled,” he added. “No new schools were being planned. There was no employment, no parks and no amenities. What we had was a community of long-term residents that were hoping the area would get better.”

– Planners Listened To

Community Residents

CityLink Investment Corp. held community meetings in living rooms, on weekdays and weekends, using translators where needed to communicate with local residents of Logan Heights, Sherman Heights and City Heights. The biggest community concern was residential crime. Hearing the message loud and clear, Jones and Price developed the master plan into a vision. Phase one brought the community together with the San Diego Police Department to help re-establish community pride and lower crime.

Completed in 1995, the Mid-City Community Police Station, unlike other police facilities in the mid-city, has large windows that overlook a park-like setting and was designed with assistance from both police and residents.

This police station stands apart from others in the country as it invites the community into the facility, either to play basketball in the community gym or use one of several meeting rooms.

“This proved to the neighborhood that crime prevention can be handled in a sensitive and responsible fashion while still holding on to a community focus,” Jones said. “The best part is that residents love the security and that there is a waiting list for police officers to be assigned to this location. Another important part of phase one is a library complex that is also complete.

“As we move toward the shopping center phase, it is our goal to track the construction jobs and permanent positions that we create as part of the plan,” Jones added. “Permanent community revitalization is a working partnership between the developer that creates opportunity and residents who have the primary responsibility to change their neighborhood. I see overwhelming response from the community and that gives me great satisfaction.”

– Organizers Eager

For Job Opportunities

Linda Pennington, artist and resident of Azalea Park, has been involved in the project planning from the beginning as a member of a community focus group led by CityLink Investment Corp. Now, resident organizers have teamed with the City Heights Community Development Corp. to focus, not on the brick and mortar, but on the future employment opportunities within City Heights Urban Village.

“We’re thrilled about the entire project from the police station to the library and now to the shopping center and office building complexes. With regard to employment, we are hopeful because we certainly have a great need. And, having jobs in the neighborhood is wonderful,” Pennington said.

Pennington is editor of the Parkster, one of several neighborhood newspapers currently running ads about skills training and job opportunities at the shopping center and future proposed office and retail complex.

“Our ad, like the others, is designed to change people’s lives,” Pennington said. “Even though we don’t know exactly how many jobs the City Heights Urban Village will produce, we do know that a lot of opportunity is being created right here for our residents.”

– Honored With

Numerous Awards

Jones grew up in San Diego’s urban community and remains deeply committed to responsible community revitalization. He has received the 1999 Bridge Builders Award from the Partners for Livable Communities for City Heights Urban Village; the Black Contractors Association Developer of the 20th Century Award; the American Institute of Architects/San Diego Chapter Socially Responsive Building Award; and the Father’s Day Council award as one of the 1996 Fathers of the Year.

As president and sole shareholder of CityLink Investment Corp., Jones seeks initial capital from corporations, foundations and individuals and then acquires, develops and manages real estate ventures in selected urban areas. Jones worked as a real estate manager with the Prudential Realty Group prior to starting CityLink Corp. in 1993. Active in local government, Jones served as a council member on the San Diego City Council from 1982 through 1987.

Those interested in knowing more about the employment or business opportunities at City Heights Urban Village can contact the City Heights Community Development Corp. at (619) 584-1535.

Walke is a local freelance writer.

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