Horton Park, Portland Loos Get Green Light from City

Downtown San Diego figures to be a lot more welcoming -- and sanitary -- after two City Council decisions Tuesday authorizing long-awaited improvement projects.

For those impatient with lack of progress on efforts to revamp the historic Horton Plaza park area on the south side of Broadway between 3rd and 4th Avenues, the catch-phrase could be, "It's about time."

Original hopes were for a grand opening this past New Year's Eve.

Now, July of 2015 is the target date.

And, four years after initial calls to install prefabricated “Portland Loos” restrooms in East Village, facilities at two locations are expected to open in June.

The 1.5-acre Horton park site has been surrounded by plywood fencing well before demolition work on Westfield-Horton Plaza structures began in November 2012.

City officials say the $11 million project was held up by a financing dispute with the state, land-title issues and underground utility problems.

Construction is expected to start in July and will include an amphitheater, three food and beverage pavilions, public restrooms and restoration of the park’s fountain.

“This project is meant to vitalize the space, activate the space,” says Daniel Kay, a civil engineer who’s headed up the park program for Civic San Diego – the city’s successor to the Centre City Development Corp. which was put out of business by state action to end redevelopment.

“Westfield is actually responsible for maintaining the park for the first 25 years,” Kay told NBC 7 in an interview Tuesday, “which is part of the owner participation agreement.”

That agreement also calls for the Westfield group – which handled the demolition and deeded the underlying land to the city in return for the city relinquishing a multimillion-dollar profit-sharing arrangement -- to stage 200 special events a year in the park.

Those events, increased foot traffic and night lighting are expected to vastly reduce problems that transients, panhandlers and drug dealing once posed throughout the civic square around the fountain.

A 2011 study by National University’s research institute projected the park could have an economic impact upwards of $310 million over 25 years, generating more than $37 million in property, sales and hotel taxes.

Meantime Tuesday, the City Council approved plans for a pair of "Portland Loo" restrooms that carry a total cost of $400,000, plus $50,000 in annual maintenance.

Residents and businesses in East Village have long complained about transients relieving themselves outdoors.

"They come along the building. They do their business in our doorways, in our roll-up areas where we're working, and we have to clean up,” says Dan Selis, president of Mission Brewery, across the street from one of the planned Portland Loos outposts on the southwest corner of 14th and L Streets.

“The whole area smells; it’s not pleasant,” Selis said. “It’s also, for us, distracting when we have to confront homeless who sometimes are in the middle of the act of doing their business. It’s horrible. And it’s actually causing some of the tenants in the building to entertain relocating their businesses.”

The 14th and L location and the other Portland Loos target site on the northwest corner of Market Street and Park Boulevard have raised eyebrows among residents who don’t think they’re the most ideal to fill gaps in downtown’s network of restrooms available to the public.

“Why are they putting them in these two weird locations? Because nobody else wanted them anywhere else, and those are the only two locations that Civic (San Diego) controlled,” says Gary Smith, president of the Downtown Residents Group which comprises more than 700 dues-paying individuals -- many representing center city homeowners associations.

“That’s why they’re going where they’re going – not because there’s a particular need at those particular ‘randomly selected’ corners.”

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