Is San Diego's downtown ready for a bright, bold new look?
Plans for an entertainment district that would reflect the dynamic of Times Square and LA Live are now 'on the table' at City Hall.
Much of downtown San Diego was a wasteland before the Horton Plaza mall paved the way for a Renaissance that revitalized the Gaslamp Quarter, and PETCO Park has since put more upscale life into East Village.
Now, promoters of a special downtown entertainment district think their proposal might do the same for 30 blocks going north from Broadway
While downtown San Diego is nowhere near being in New York's league – or Los Angeles’ – either it has a certain allure of its own.
And merchants who have heard about the prospect of establishing a glittering "Times Square"-style entertainment hub Broadway to Ash between 3rd and 9th avenues say it's worth a serious look.
"What it would bring is vibrancy to downtown,” says Dan O’Brien, who’s Octopus Clothing store has been a fixture on C Street for 14 years. "So all the businesses around would benefit from it. When the sales and tax revenue goes up, people can hire more. And then we get an upward spiral -- which obviously everyone needs right now."
The concept calls for expanding the city's sign ordinance to include the kind of big-screen displays and presentations put on in Times Square and LA Live by leading media companies and product sponsors, who'd lease space from downtown landlords of 15 to 20 qualified properties throughout the 30-block entertainment district.
"And frankly, with something like 80 of 90 percent of these buildings, you can't do anything,” says Jeff Marston, a San Diego public relations consultant who’s partnering with Denver-based David Ehrlich, who helped create the Mile High City’s special theater, arts and culture district.
Marston emphasizes that 244 pages of documents outlining the district’s features, codes and governance put historical buildings off-limits to advertising screens or signage: “They're automatically out, they're historical."
Marston and Ehrlich say they’ve invested four years in community outreach meetings with “stakeholders” throughout downtown and beyond.
The feedback, apparently, has been encouraging.
“There seems to be a willingness from several property owners to look at something like this,” says Janelle Riella, spokeswoman for the Downtown San Diego Partnership, comprising 325 companies and businesses in the center city area.
"There could be some opposition,” Riella added, “but overall, in an urban center like this -- the financial district and a theater district -- there seems to be a lot of support."
The idea is music to the ears of longtime locals who have seen downtown morph from ‘a dump' into a real 'destination'.
"Everything is going to change sooner or later,” said Willie Lee Brown, leader of a jazz band named “Will Love a Lot”, as he took a break from strumming his electric guitar at the corner of 5th Avenue and C Street during Thursday’s noon hour.
“The thing is you need to give it a chance before you nay-say it, and see how it would affect the city," Brown said.
The concept gets its first City Hall airing at next week's meeting of the Council's Land Use & Housing Committee.
The promoters are predicting 'year-3' gross advertising revenues of about $5 million.
They say approximately 30 to 40 percent of that would be split between the landlords and a nonprofit entertainment district governance entity.