Five miles east of downtown, amid rolling hills and weathered homes, empty and dusty parcels pock the neighborhood surrounding Euclid Avenue and Market Street in southeastern San Diego — physical reminders that, for decades, this community has been starving for an economic lifeline.
But new signs are appearing behind the empty lots’ chain link fences. They display the portraits of local residents whose smiles seem oblivious to the barren properties around them.
The literal signs behind those fences are also symbolic signs of what’s in store for this community.
In a wave of recent purchases, the nonprofit Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, an arm of the Jacobs Family Foundation, has accumulated more than 50 acres of property across the community, with ambitious plans to breathe new life into this struggling area. For a San Diego nonprofit, its plans to attract and leverage $500 million in investment to develop an urban village complete with 1,000 new homes, nearly 300,000 square feet of retail space, and 250,000 square feet of office space are unprecedented.
They have been met with vocal praise, but also cautious acceptance and outright hostility. Many in the community have hailed the Jacobs Center as the catalyst that will revitalize economic activity in southeastern San Diego. Others have grown suspicious of the organization’s ever-expanding role and collection of property that has made it such an influential player in the community’s future.
The Village at Market Creek, as it’s called, is unusual because its developer is a nonprofit foundation, not a private for-profit company. Its vision for the community is an experiment in the potential for philanthropic, rather than government, agencies to spark economic revitalization in a poor community.