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San Diego
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Shopping Mall Blazed a Trail for Downtown’s Revitalization

Sleazy. That’s what downtown San Diego had become following the mass exodus of people to the suburbs during the 1950s and ’60s. The area was left with vacant buildings, parking lots, a low-income population, and a string of adult entertainment venues.

Then, during the ’70s and ’80s, a group of developers, city leaders and visionaries came together to restore the heart that had withered over the years. The answers didn’t come easily, but eventually the idea for a mixed-use retail center was born.

On Aug. 9, 1985, Horton Plaza opened in the heart of downtown, just south of Broadway, even as naysayers predicted that the area never would be a magnet for shoppers, tourists and residents. But the mall spurred a gradual revitalization that would see the redevelopment of the Gaslamp Quarter along with dozens of new restaurants, improvements to the area’s infrastructure, the construction of thousands of new housing units, and expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. This revitalization was kicked into high gear with the advent of Petco Park in 2004.

Named after city pioneer Alonzo E. Horton, the shopping center was acquired in 1998 by the Westfield Group, an Australian mall owner and operator, changing the mall’s name to Westfield Horton Plaza. These days, the mall is home to more than 140 businesses , a mix that includes everything from clothing, jewelry, toys, books and music, to a fitness center, a movie theater and high-end eateries, anchored by Nordstrom and Macy’s department stores, along with 2,200 parking spaces dispersed over seven levels.

Originally developed by Ernest W. Hahn, and designed by architect Jon Jerde, Horton Plaza cost $140 million to build. The project covers six-and-one-half city blocks, or 11.5 acres. This is part of the 15-block, 41.5-acre Horton Plaza redevelopment area that also includes condos and apartments, high-rise office buildings, stores, hotels, theaters and restaurants.

Among them are the U.S. Federal Courthouse, Meridian Condominiums, Palladian Building , now called the American Specialty Health Plans; 225 Broadway, also known as the NBC Building; Spreckles Theatre, AT & T; Building, Westin Hotel, Golden West Hotel, Horton Fourth Avenue Apartments, the Bristol Square office building, Horton Plaza Park, and the Balboa Theatre.

One of the oldest performing arts venues in San Diego, Balboa Theatre is now being renovated into a 1,300-seat, live-performance facility, and expected to open in the winter of 2007.

Other branded properties in San Diego are the Westfield Mission Valley, Plaza Camino Real in Carlsbad, North County Fair in Escondido, UTC in University City, Parkway Plaza in El Cajon, and Plaza Bonita in National City , all carrying the Westfield moniker.

According to Frank Alessi, vice president and chief financial officer for the Centre City Development Corp., which oversees downtown redevelopment for the city, Horton Plaza and the Westin Hotel generate an $8 million annual return to the public.

This includes $2 million in property taxes and another $2 million in rents and parking revenue collected by CCDC, which has a participatory agreement with Westfield; and $2 million in sales taxes and another $2 million in transient occupancy taxes that go directly to the city.

, Pat Broderick

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