Plans for a bright, bold, high-tech makeover in the heart of downtown San Diego made a favorable first impression at City Hall on Wednesday.
The proposal involves a special entertainment district that reflects the dynamic of New York's Times Square and "L.A. Live".
But, as the promoters emphasize, the atmosphere they envision for San Diego’s entertainment district would be more artistic and culturally oriented than the high degree of commercialism in New York and Los Angeles’ districts.
"If you can take an LED (screen) and put it on a corner where people are waiting on the trolley, where people are hanging out for lunch, and then program it at noon and show them highlights of San Diego's arts and culture, sports highlights -- all the different things you have going on here -- they'll stay,” says David Ehrlich, a Denver-based financial advisor who helped launch the Mile High City’s highly touted theater and arts district.
“They'll watch it, they'll each lunch there, they'll gather there, they'll get used to gathering there,” Ehrlich continued in an interview before he briefed the City Council’s Land & Housing Committee, “and then you can program into it."
Meaning, sell advertising and present sponsored productions on buildings with just the right space and locations for installing giant LED screens.
The planned entertainment district would cover roughly 50 blocks, mostly north of Broadway between Front Street and Eighth Avenue – although its boundaries could change as it advances through municipal vetting cycles.
Some obvious potential prospects for LED installations?
Vast outer wall spaces on City Hall, and various office buildings surrounding the Civic Center complex.
The proposal also would spell out specific revenue splits with the building landlords and a nonprofit district governing board.
Ehrlich projects gross revenues of several million dollars by the third year after the district is established.
"Oh, it'd be great,” said Pete Soto, owner of the “Brooklyn Dogs” lunch cart on Civic Center Plaza, after hearing of the proposal during Wednesday’s noon hour. "Boost up business. More revenue for the city. Works for everybody."
Land Use & Housing Committee members seemed pleased and intrigued by the concept, but raised numerous questions to ferret out whatever devils may be in the details of sign plans, statutes, and formulas for commercial-versus-arts and culture content in the big-screen presentations.
Committee chairwoman Lori Zapf and Councilman David Alvarez offered help in guiding the project through the proper channels.
As for parallels to Times Square and L.A. Live, "This is completely different, in that there's a social/public component,” says Ehrlich. “And that's the sort of mission, the basis for it -- as opposed to a pure profit motive."
Ehrlich and Jeff Marston, his local public relations partner, have spent four years laying the groundwork by way of outreaches to community planning groups, the now-defunct Centre City Development Corporation, city lawyers and the mayor’s office.
They expect to submit maps, sign plans and proposed statutes to begin the formal approval process in October.
They're hoping for a “reasonable best-case” timeline that leads to ribbon-cutting ceremonies early next year.