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Horton Plaza Project Would Breathe New Life Into Downtown

The Campus at Horton project could help position downtown as an adaptive and creative center with an eye toward a sustainable future.

Horton Plaza Park
Horton Plaza Park / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

This past August, Stockdale Capital Partners announced its purchase of Horton Plaza and a plan to breathe new life into the center of downtown San Diego. The new ownership aspires to transform the aging, nearly vacant retail mall into a vibrant office complex with entertainment, food, beverage and retail. Its energetic 2020 timeline capitalizes on current market trends and would immediately enhance both safety and security at Horton Plaza Park.

The Campus at Horton, as the real estate investment firm calls it, will be considered by the city of San Diego’s Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee on Thursday. San Diego should move this project forward immediately to benefit all members of downtown and the entire San Diego region.

Voice of San Diego Commentary

Horton Plaza as we know it began to take shape in 1972 and opened on Aug. 9, 1985. It was the brainchild of Mayor Pete Wilson and developer Ernie Hahn. Architect Jon Jerde’s design redefined the urban retail experience, bringing people and commerce to downtown. Horton Plaza’s success contributed to the creation of the San Diego Convention Center and Petco Park and increased development in East Village.

Just like the previous transformation, the new Campus at Horton will create significant benefits for the community and region. At the outset, the project is estimated to deliver between 3,000 and 4,000 well-paying jobs with an estimated economic impact of $1.8 billion to start for downtown San Diego, based on Stockdale’s internal marketing analysis. It will also attract high-tech and biotech companies, which appeal to a new generation of professionals looking to experience San Diego’s unbeatable lifestyle.

To be successful, this project must capitalize on the current market. As the tech sector grows four times faster than the national economy, high-tech firms are exploring new markets. Skyrocketing costs of living, competition for talent and lack of office space are driving a rapid shift away from traditional tech-centric cities like San Francisco and Seattle. This changing dynamic provides an unprecedented opportunity for San Diego to further establish itself as an innovative city.

The San Diego region is well-positioned to attract these high-tech firms. In the past year alone, major companies including Amazon, Teradata and Walmart Labs have doubled down on their San Diego presence, and startups including Wrike, Cloudbeds and most recently, Comma.ai, are either expanding in or moving into the region. Many of these firms have cited San Diego’s rich talent pool of scientists, engineers, sales talent and entrepreneurs, and universities and research centers, as primary reasons for their San Diego presence.

The Campus at Horton is precisely what high-tech, forward-thinking companies are seeking. The existing open floor plans and expansive square footage of the current Horton Plaza are perfectly suited to the design and layout of contemporary office spaces. Pairing this office space with retail, entertainment and access to downtown, the airport and nearby housing creates the ideal environment for innovative companies.

The project will also contribute to the achievement of our Climate Action Plan goals. According to a 2016 SANDAG report, of employed residents in Council District 3, which includes downtown and its neighboring urban communities, 77 percent work outside the district. With Downtown San Diego experiencing new growth in housing, The Campus at Horton will bring high-quality jobs closer to this urban workforce, and closer to transit-dense communities. As people opt to walk, bike or scooter to work, the proximity of the project to San Diego’s multimodal transit system and housing will reduce reliance on cars.

As is the case with most projects, the Campus at Horton has heard from the community and acknowledged the initial concerns about losing the architectural beauty of Jerde’s original design. Elements that made Horton Plaza unique will be incorporated into the new project. Remaining tenants who reported a loss of business under Horton Plaza’s previous ownership have raised concerns that the redevelopment process could negatively impact them. Stockdale, however, is working to address these concerns and, in general, an enlivened Campus at Horton will reinvigorate business.

Overall, this project has enjoyed broad support within the business and residential communities of downtown San Diego and has sought to find solutions to any community issues. Changes to the site will provide benefits like increased security at Horton Plaza Park and programming for the public to enjoy.

If our history proves anything, it is that San Diego can continuously reinvent itself. From a tuna canning capital to a vibrant working neighborhood in Little Italy, city-owned land to a biotech hub on the Torrey Pines Mesa, and a historic military base to a national model of mixed-use development in Liberty Station, visionary real estate projects have transformed our region.

Downtown San Diego is already in the midst of its own transformation. The Campus at Horton capitalizes on this exciting opportunity to position downtown as an adaptive and creative center with an eye toward a sustainable future. The time is now to move this visionary project forward.

Betsy Brennan is CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership. Mark Cafferty is CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation. Jerry Sanders is CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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