The Future of Downtown's Makers Quarter

Makers Quarter attracting people before construction even begins

If you were to walk around the East Village today, it would seem a world away from a decade ago. At least that’s the story for most of that part of downtown that’s enjoyed a rebirth thanks to Petco Park opening 10 years ago. High rise condos surround the ballpark and 2014 has seen multiple new restaurants take up residence.

However, walking five or six blocks Northeast can seem like traveling back in time. The area from 14th to 17th avenues between G Street and Broadway has been mostly left out of the redevelopment boom.

Now, a group of developers is hoping to change that.

The five-and-a-half block area is being called Makers Quarter, and the end goal is a neighborhood geared towards attracting a mixture of new residents, along with tech jobs, and a focus on the arts.

“We, and many of the folks involved in this long term vision are very passionate,” explained Makers Quarter Urban Planner Stacey Pennington.

The area will eventually be transformed into 2.5 million square feet of new development. This includes knocking down the old Jerome’s furniture building.

San Diego based Lankford and Associates is part of the development team, along with Hensel Phelps construction and Portman Holdings.

While none of the construction in the area will start before 2015, the people are already coming. A dirt lot at 15th Avenue and F Street is where they gather. It’s called Silo.

The dirt lot with hay on the ground and graffiti on the walls is now home to weekly events like Food truck Fridays and other special events like BYOW every Wednesday. It stands for "bring your own work." People are encouraged to bring their laptops, and make the area their desk for the day. The organizers call it an urban experiment.

“So, we see that more and more people want to be outdoors in collaborative environments, and it’s really about connecting with people you don’t know,” said Pennington.

They know experiments don’t guarantee success, and change like this does not happen overnight.

Even the planners of Makers Quarter call this a part of downtown that has been neglected, and it’s impossible to walk through the area after dark without noticing a considerable homeless population. 

“One of our biggest challenges is perception,” said Pennington, “The thought process we’ve had is the more we bring people to this neighborhood, the more eyes on the streets, per say, the safer it actually ends up becoming.”

The higher homeless population does not necessarily translate into a safety issue. In fact, according to the ARJIS crimemapping website, violent crimes in the Makers Quarter area have been lower than most other neighborhoods downtown over the past six months. Having the San Diego Police headquarters a few blocks away is a pretty good crime deterrent.

The neighborhood is slowly changing but there’s a lot of work ahead. Even Silo’s days are numbered. That dirt lot at 15th and F Street will eventually be developed into residential units.

How long will it take? The estimate is seven to 15 years before it’s all done.

Until then, Silo and a community garden across the street are meant to create a buzz and start establishing a reputation for what the neighborhood will become. More than 10,000 people have visited events or the garden since September.

“It’s this focus on developing community before the buildings come,” said Pennington, “We’re inviting everyone to be a part of that conversation."

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