Horton Plaza Park Expansion: Hole in Ground; Nothing Done

 The long wait for a new civic treasure in downtown San Diego may get even longer and more costly.

First announced in November, 2010, the stalled-out expansion of historic Horton Plaza Park is characterized by a giant hole in the ground on the 300 block of Broadway, east of 3rd Avenue.

It’s obscured from street-level public view – although visible from the first floor at Westfield Horton Plaza mall’s north end – by wooden fencing.

And while there's amateur artwork on the fencing, “it’s a big eyesore,” said Spring Valley resident Crystal Williams. “They’re trying to get a lot of money out of the people, but they’re not coming through with the right ideas.”

The late, great Alonzo Horton – the park’s namesake and acknowledged “father” of downtown San Diego -- probably had his share of frustrations and setbacks developing the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

No doubt something on the order of the current expansion project would have ranked right up there in Horton’s pantheon of problems.

It's been a year and a half since a couple of major retail and restaurant buildings were demolished to make way for what city officials said in 2010 would be a showcase, $8 million park.

Now, gas-lit by escalating construction labor and material costs, the budget has skyrocketed to nearly $18 million

And the low-bidder on the building contract has been disqualified for non-compliance with subcontractor guidelines.

While the project is eligible for leftover redevelopment funding, state finance executives could still pull the rug out from under it on technicalities.

In a best-case scenario, officials say the park could still open in November of next year.

But there's no shortage of skeptics.

"It's becoming a sinkhole,” North Park resident Paul Hess told NBC 7 during a Thursday noontime stroll through the farmer’s market on Horton Square, across Broadway Circle from the project site. “I don't think it'll be on schedule, and I don't think it'll be on budget. Just about like everything else around here is these days."

Added La Jolla resident Pat Prindle: “It doesn’t say much for our city government when these things happen time and time again … I’m not optimistic at all.”

Solana Beach resident Halleh Tidaback, who works in a downtown office nearby, said she’s not surprised that a high-profile civic project could get bogged down for reasons good – and possibly bad.

"San Diegans should be asking those questions, right?” Tidabeck asked rhetorically. “They really should be knowing what's going on in our community and be involved."

The city's deal with mall owner Westfield calls for the company to bankroll park maintenance and programming of 200 events a year over a 25-year period.

Westfield is also subject to a minor portion of the expansion costs.

But for now, even with a series of public-agency “signoff” deadlines looming, nothing’s definite except uncertainty.

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