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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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Downtown Makeovers Now Name of Game for North County Cities

In spite of the lackluster economy, most of the cities in North County are in the process of approving major improvements to their downtown cores.

With urbanization having been the name of the game for decades, a resurgence of support for returning to our downtowns is mounting everywhere.

They are coming with fancy new names, such as The Gateway to the City.

For example, take Escondido, which is about to begin a downtown destination makeover.

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Years ago, the city helped build an $85 million California Center for the Arts complex and then things ground to a halt.

But three or four years ago, the addition of new businesspeople to the City Council brought a new approach to improving the city’s core.

The plan calls for 1,300 housing units in the downtown area consisting of townhomes and lofts to bring in more shoppers.

Many of them are bordering the downtown area. They are well along on that goal.

New retail shopping is being encouraged. The city is just finishing its new $61 million police and fire headquarters on North Centre City Parkway, freeing up the old 2.6-acre police station site adjacent to the new Sprinter and transit center.

The city is negotiating with a Phoenix-based developer, Opus West, to build a mixed-use retail complex.

Across the street, the North County Transit District is hoping to redevelop its 18-acre train and bus complex into apartments, lofts, offices and retail space.

These types of businesses would allow workers and shoppers alike to take mass transit to stores and offices to cut down on car trips.

To begin with, the city is looking to spruce up its main drag , Grand Avenue.

It already is the site of Cruisin’ Grand, a terrific classic car venue held every Friday night throughout the summer that brings thousands of visitors and car buffs to the heart of the city.

Plans call for Grand Avenue to be repaved with decorative material, illuminated trees and new streetlights all the way to the current Palomar Medical Center to encourage walking and shopping.

The current medical center will become an educational and corporate center for Palomar Pomerado Health.

The hospital is being replaced with a new facility on the northern end of the city, which is costing hundreds of millions of bonded money.

By the health care district moving into the rehabbed facility, even more potential shoppers will arrive.

The crown jewel of the new downtown destination will be the city’s first major hotel, the $56 million Marriott being built next door to the performing arts center.

The full-service, seven-story hotel will include banquet space, dining and 196 hotel rooms. Building should begin in August and be complete by 2010. Developer C.W. Clark of La Jolla is the builder.

While all of this is jelling, the city plans to spend more than $1 million to build a new festival corridor along Grand and Valley Parkway that will be home to a farmers market, street fairs and other civic events. All and all, the long-awaited Escondido makeover is about to begin.

Del Mar, San Marcos, Encinitas, Oceanside, Vista and Carlsbad are all following suit.

In columns to come, you will read about the hundreds of millions of dollars of development and redevelopment money being spent in these cities as the return to the downtown hits its stride.

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As a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, I was interested in the release of its annual listing of the Spirit of Enterprise Award, which signifies that a member of Congress votes at least 70 percent of the time with business throughout the year.

In California, 18 members of Congress were recognized. In San Diego County, three of our five representatives were cited.

The three Republican congressmen , Darrell Issa, Brian Bilbray and Duncan Hunter , were once again saluted.

When you run into any of the three listed, thank them for supporting business.

The time for Congress to put aside partisan politics and look at stimulating the economy has not yet united the two major parties.

– – –

At its April 22 meeting, the Carlsbad City Council voted to trim the increase of traffic impact fees from the city’s developers.

The week before, the council voted to raise the fees from 207 percent to 400 percent to compensate for the projected lack of local road improvement money.

The council had a projection from its traffic planners that $30 million to $50 million would be needed to keep up with the traffic flow level in future years.

The outcry from developers was probably heard throughout the county.

Several business leaders who testified illustrated cost increases for their projects from $200,000 to $600,000, and more if the proposed ordinance was signed.

After lots of discussion, the council directed staff to return with a white paper on grandfathering existing projects or those that receive permits by the end of September.

The late night decision was to only raise the fees by 109 percent.

The details about the limits of grandfathering and who will qualify will be presented at a future meeting.

The point of this story is that cities across America are looking for any and all ways to increase nearly every fee possible to make up for sales tax shortfalls in this precarious economic time.

The rule of thumb for all governments should be firm, but fair, and all things in moderation.


Ted Owen is president and CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.

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