The real-estate developers behind “Rethink Downtown: Behind San Diego’s Skyline,” a free public exhibit showing downtown through Sunday, call it a “landmark exhibition” and a “significant opportunity to understand San Diego, its past, its present and future.”
On the flip side, a local architecture professor called the exhibit a “publicity stunt” and “a gimmick.” And a curator said she felt hoodwinked by the show’s ambiguous promotion.
Bosa Development, a Vancouver, Canada-based development firm that’s built several high-rise condo towers in downtown San Diego, has been marketing “Rethink Downtown” by using terms like “artist in residence,” “gallery” and “curator.” And the exhibit’s website promotes hashtags like #rethinkpublicart while touting the fact that a newly commissioned, large-scale public art installation adorns the façade of the building housing the exhibition.
“With two public art installations on-site, our exhibition itself is transforming the downtown streetscape,” reads a tagline on the “Rethink Downtown” website.
For a few months after the exhibition opened in September, advertising for it was all over San Diego. Susan Myrland, a local independent curator and arts consultant, came across a “Rethink Downtown” billboard in Little Italy, plus print ads in San Diego Magazine.
“So I went because I thought it was an art exhibition,” she said. “Because that’s the language they used. They couched it in the language of an art exhibition, so I went expecting that. And yes, I was disappointed.”
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"director of sales" pretty much sums up the purpose of this "exhibit". Bosa is trying to soft peddle the fact that it is busy walling off downtown from its bayfront with more and more highrise structures with sprawling podium structures at the base that effectively
prevent people from moving to and from the harbor front and blocking the bay views of downtown residents and workers living and working in buildings inland from the wall of high rise condo towers Bosa is constructing along the downtown waterfront. San Diego's political leaders are sitting on their hands while they let developers turn our downtown into a standing joke among urban planners worldwide. Only San Diego is stupid enough to waste its most significant geographical asset like this. No other city on the west coast of the US has allowed its bayfront to be walled off. In San Diego, if you want a view of our downtown bayfront, you have to buy a million dollar condo in one of Bosa's towers or pay one of the waterfront hotels $400 a night to see our own harbor.
It looks like a brilliant marketing campaign to me.
Paint job on the exterior: Looks like art - that makes it "public art."
Model of the city: I would guess that qualifies as sculpture. Is it self-serving? Sure, but as others have said, it's nice to see it since the CCDC model is gone.
The exhibit: Nice historical videos along with some well-executed hype.
Lecture series: Not your typical developer "outreach." Again, part of a brilliant marketing campaign.
As someone who has been a member of the public with a passion for urban development and a champion of the arts, amenities and quality of life issues, it seems to me Nat Bosa has worked pretty hard to offer some creative thought to our community and our skyline. Yeah, Bosa is making tons of money here, and it would be nice to respect that, and invite him to continue being generous with his philanthropy to improve our City, instead of biting off a hand that could very easily feed so many civic endeavors. Before he takes his marbles and moves to another town to play, I hope he will leave a legacy that is more than just buildings and one that truly enhances our City. It's time for us to "Rethink" how we can engage him in developing our Community and not just residential towers.
Maybe calling it an art exhibition is a stretch. But providing a model of downtown, since none exists since CCDC demise, and providing thoughtful lectures is a public benefit. Bosa did not have to do this, since condos are selling themselves these days. Bosa has built more than a "handful" of developments downtown. He has built 6 to date, with at least 3 more in some stage of planning. Some of these, like Elektra (which reused the beautiful old SDG&E steam plant) have significant architectural merit. Bosa also funded the development of the Monarch School, a school that serves hundreds of homeless kids, in Bario Logan. Developers aren't necessarily bad guys!
"Bosa Development could have opened the typical sales office with the same, boring old roll-out."
While Bosa's director of sales doesn't know the difference between selling and PR, Mr. Abbott obviously knows a sales office when he sees it.
BTW, I wonder how many huge scale models of downtown actually exist. Perhaps the one Bosa has now IS the old one from CCDC; it was an excellent model.
I rather liked Rethink's approach. (Disclosure: I am a retired downtown real estate broker) Rethink's representation as a temporary exhibition was a perfectly curated and synergized with a revitalized downtown San Diego residential market. As far as the naysayers? Poor Nat Bosa -who by the way is a serious philanthropist- is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Bosa Development could have opened the typical sales office with the same, boring old roll-out. Instead, they pulled together a thoughtful retrospective and predictive future of downtown San Diego. They're also filling a huge gap left by the elimination of CCDC with regards to public outreach. The effort was fresh, different and welcome change. I hope they continue to challenge the sales, development and public art process in new and unexpected ways.