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Live, and Let Live, But Do It Downtown

Whether downtown San Diego is overbuilt with apartments and condos , a popular perception , or in danger of falling short on supply, it is in the national spotlight.

Come fall, the Downtown Residential Marketing Alliance is planning to turn up the voltage with a $200,000 ad campaign, encouraging folks to “Live Downtown.”

Sherm Harmer, a prolific downtown developer and DRMA president, wants to spread the word about the delights of living downtown.

“We are a living laboratory,” said the co-founder of Urban Housing Partners Inc., whose projects include Smart Corner, One Library Circle and Santa Fe Depot. “I had folks here today from the city of Orange and Newport Beach wanting to know the mechanics of urban building and financing and planning the product.”

The alliance , a coalition of builders and city leaders , is using data from a survey of 800 respondents countywide, including 300 downtown residents, asking about their impressions of downtown.

DRMA and the Centre City Development Corp., which oversees redevelopment downtown, commissioned the study.

According to DRMA, one-third of the county’s 3 million residents said they would consider moving downtown at one time or the other, which prompted the campaign.

The alliance has produced two 30-second TV spots for cable television , one aimed at women, the other at men , focusing on the waterfront, Balboa Park and downtown dining.

On Aug. 23, the Gaslamp Quarter Association gave the green light to partner with DRMA on a program to install up to 180 banners on utility poles to promote downtown.

“The spirit of the campaign is getting people to live downtown, and that will be good for the businesses here,” said Dan Flores, senior marketing manager for the Association. “It will grow San Diego into a 24-hour neighborhood on a par with those in New York and Chicago.”

Living It

DRMA also has announced the fifth annual Downtown by Design Home Tour for Nov. 4-5 for people interested in living downtown. They’ll get to visit eight condos, from modest to luxurious.

Lisa Coleman, manager for the downtown branch of Countrywide Home Loans, the tour’s main sponsor, has seen many changes in the downtown market over the years.

“We are at about the same sales pace as we were four years ago,” said Coleman, a veteran mortgage banker of 20 years. “We don’t have lines forming as we once did.”

But she does anticipate a steady stream of buyers attracted to downtown.

“Every year, there are more and more people , empty nesters, baby boomers, looking for a simpler lifestyle,” she said.

Boomtown

According to CCDC, the population downtown is now 30,000, with a work force of 80,000. By 2030, the population is expected to grow to 90,000, with a work force of 165,000.

CCDC reports that 5,438 condo units, 2,249 apartment units, 447,000 square feet of retail, 404,000 square feet of office, 1,254 hotel rooms and 7,303 public parking spaces have been constructed since 2001.

Now that the downtown is maturing, the focus is shifting away from new development to creating the services that meet the needs of the residential market.

“Our focus as a corporation is really on public amenities and infrastructure in downtown , new parks, fire stations, the revitalization of the waterfront , that make the public realm get that much better,” said Derek Danziger, CCDC communications director.

All that will be happening with a variety of projects, from implementing the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, to the revitalization of the waterfront, to the reinvention of C Street, which will be turned into a “grand civic boulevard, with more pedestrian-oriented retail,” he said.

Noise is another issue for downtown denizens, and CCDC is now laying the groundwork to establish a so-called “quiet zone” to regulate when train whistles can be blown, said Danziger.

Kevin Casey, vice president of public policy and communications for the Downtown San Diego Partnership, a business advocacy group, was equally upbeat about the downtown’s future.

“We have a lot of infrastructure improvements coming downtown,” he said. “This is a short-term slowdown and pause, and they’re not necessarily a bad thing.”

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