Going Big in Little Italy: Grand Piazza on the Way

The final agreements and permits for an $80 million civic renewal project in downtown's Little Italy are about to be signed and stamped at city hall.

The project’s showpiece is Piazza Famiglia, a 10,000 square-foot public gathering space on a closed-off stretch of West Date Street, which will be overlooked by two mid-rise business and residential buildings.

"I believe it will open up this area so that people will congregate,” said Marisa Quinzii, who lives and works in Little Italy. “We have these narrow sidewalks here. I believe the park will help disperse some traffic and will be good for the community."

The residential elements of the project include 125 apartments, two dozen of them set aside as affordable units.

All you can see there right now is a giant crater and construction crane, but the venture is said to be on schedule to open next year.

It's one more encouraging sign of progress and gentrification in a long-neglected stretch of San Diego's urban core that first took root in the 1880s -- only to be cut in half when Interstate 5 was built in the 1960s.

Proof in print?

Last year Forbes magazine listed Little Italy as one of the nation's "top ten neighborhoods for Millennials."

Tourists interviewed by NBC 7 Thursday said Piazza Famiglia figures to add significantly to the area's magnetism.

"Not only for San Diego, to bring people in to see what San Diego has to offer,” said Jennifer Baralli, who lives near Chicago’s Little Italy, “but most importantly to provide jobs and tourism for the local businesses that have been here for a very long time.”

The piazza carries a building cost of $1.6 million.

The city will subsidize the developer $1 million, in order to acquire a prime public park asset at a major discount from current price tags for park space.

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