Friday, April 08, 2005 | This is the final part in the five-part series. Read part one, part two, part three and part four.
Former Mayor Pete Wilson launched his vision for downtown 30 years ago when he and his council delegated the plan to replace peep shows with promenades. In another 30 years, the Centre City Redevelopment Plan will have expired, the tax-allocation bonds sold will be well on their way to being paid off, and downtown San Diego will have blossomed into the bona fide metropolis Wilson set out to create.
The Centre City Development Corp. has estimated that, once built out, the new metropolis will house close to 90,000 residents, three times as many as now. Businesses downtown will nearly double the existing workforce to 165,000, and hotel rooms and office space will in San Diego in 2035 will be twice as much as 2005, CCDC predicts.
“I remember when we were saying, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have a little gridlock in town?’” said Frank Alessi, CCDC’s vice president of finance and chief financial officer. “The synergy has come to bloom in the last five years, and now we do see some of that.”
The boom of downtown has produced a bustle far from the sleepy reality of yesteryear. The 1,500 blocks of Centre City have become the new hotspot regionally and have won international recognition as an attractive mix of commerce and diversion.
San Diego appears to be capitalizing on downtown’s redevelopment, garnering an extra $99.7 million in sales taxes and $264.2 million in hotel transient-occupancy taxes since 1984, according to CCDC. Property values have also skyrocketed since the Centre City Redevelopment Plan was formalized in 1992, spelling success for investors and meaning the tax-increment after the redevelopment bonds are paid off will go back to the entities – city, county and state – that regularly profit from property taxes.
“What surprised me was the speed with which my expectations were met and were exceeded,” Wilson said in a recent interview.
There are some that believe the expectations of the future have overshadowed some of the challenges ahead, such as how downtown’s public works are going to handle 90,000 residents in addition to the numerous tourists and workers in the city’s urban center, how new residential developments are going to impact the regional affordable housing crunch, and whether the gridlock Alessi asked for before is going to be so desirable when the project is completed.
Housing has worried Paul Downey, president and CEO of Senior Community Centers. His organization prides itself on serving San Diego’s urban elderly. Senior citizens, Downey said, have always lived downtown because single-room occupancy, or SRO, inns have historically been downtown because of the close proximity to buses and their affordability.
Downey said the area lost SROs through redevelopment, and that the ones that are left are too expensive, forcing seniors out on the street. He estimated that 93 percent of the 1,400 seniors that arrive at the Senior Community Centers everyday to be fed make have fixed incomes that are less than $750 per month.
“There’s going to be a point where the average apartment in San Diego will cost more than a social security check,” Downey said.
California Community Redevelopment Law makes two affordable housing requirements for local redevelopment agencies like CCDC: that at least 20 percent of the tax-increment revenue generated within the project area be used to increase, improve or preserve affordable housing, and that at least 15 percent of all the units developed in that area be affordable.
Alessi said the corporation has exceeded those standards on a yearly basis, and that roughly 23 percent of the units built qualify as affordable.
CCDC also offers a new homebuyer program for individuals interested in buying units costing in the mid-$200,000’s or less. Buyers that meet income requirements can receive loans from CCDC of up to 30 percent of the home’s cost with no interest and no payments for the first five years.
Leslie Wade, former executive director of the East Village Association, said she has noticed that the soup kitchens have merely moved from the redeveloped areas of downtown to East Village and that she’d like to see more progress on infrastructure within Centre City. But, she said, she expects that area to recover from stagnation once some of those projects are completed.
“It’s too early to tell,” Wade said.
Although Wilson, the visionary who saw it coming more than 30 years ago, isn’t shy to make predictions about how Centre City will turn out.
“It has exceeded my fondest expectations, and it’s because of CCDC more than anything,” Wilson said. “The nicest part of being the mayor of San Diego was the rich human capital, and downtown of the present day and the future reflects that.”
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