Council Vote Key to Transformation of ‘Fortress' Horton Plaza

What to Know

  • Alonzo Horton cleared the land around Horton Plaza in 1870 for his Horton House on D Street, according to the SD History Center.
  • In 1895 the Plaza was deeded to the city on the condition the city pay Horton $100 a month up to $10,000.
  • In 1905, the Horton House was torn down to make room for the U. S. Grant Hotel.

Architects working on the reconceptualization of Horton Plaza liken it to a mall built as a fortress in a different time that needs to be transformed once again to engage the current downtown resident who wants to live, work and play in the same neighborhood.

The Campus at Horton is the brainchild of Stockdale Capital Partners, a commercial real estate firm based in Los Angeles, that wants to turn the million-square-foot shopping center into a mix of retail and office space that could appeal to Silicon Valley technology companies.

“We want to reconnect this 9-block area to its neighbors,” said developer Jimmy Parker. “In 1984, when they opened the doors, it was a fortress. You drove in and drove out – it wasn’t designed to be a walk-up mall."

Horton Plaza Downtown San Diego

Parker wanted to dispel any idea of retail being removed from the area and likened the project more to a reconceptualization rather than a renovation.

Parker spoke with NBC 7 on Wednesday, ahead of the City Council meeting that will determine the fate of the project. Developers are asking to reduce the current retail space connected with the deed in exchange for more office space.

The current deed to Horton Plaza mandates that 600,000 square feet of the property be leased as retail space. If city officials approve the proposal, the square footage geared toward retail would be cut in half. 

More office space will mean more jobs, Parker said.

“We are not tearing the building down. We’re actually working with the building to use the great playful items that are here and then expanding on that thought and bringing it into the 21st century,” he explained.

One building adjacent to Horton Park, for example, the Bradley Building will be turned into a food hall, opening into the park and bringing people into that space.

He said they are working with current tenants to reimagine their space within the mall. For example, 24-Hour Fitness is considering moving from where they are and may add new amenities like a swimming pool and a basketball court, according to Parker.

Another potential idea would be a doggy daycare, he said.

The LA-based real estate investment firm said the space would be able to house 3,000 to 4,000 tech jobs and an estimated $1.8 billion boost in annual economic activity with just the first phase of development alone.

Horton Plaza opened in 1985 and was once considered the crown jewel of downtown.

When it first opened, it was considered a landmark of urban design, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Before the property's sale was complete, empty storefronts littered the property and the halls were lined with more homeless people than shoppers.

If the proposal passes, Stockdale Capital plans to begin construction this year and complete the Campus at Horton in 2020. 

As Dennis Morgino reports, media from around the world traveled for the opening of the shopping center in the heart of downtown San Diego on August 9, 1985.
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