Downtown San Diego’s Got Mojo

HP Investors

November 18, 2014 Bisnow

A thriving urban core is hard to define, but people can feel the energy. According to Bisnow’s Future of Downtown speakers, Downtown San Diego’s now more than just a slate for future development (though there’s plenty of that), it’s being transformed into a high-energy urban core.

Arguably, Downtown’s renaissance has been underway since the long-ago days when the area offered peep shows to sailors on shore leave, but in the last three years that change has been accelerating, the panelists agreed. East Village has come back to life as the full impact of Petco Park is felt; City College has made an investment of nearly $1B in new buildings; Makers Quarter and other projects are adding new residential units, new restaurants and improved amenities; and the IDEA District aims to attract design and tech jobs to the area. More than 300 real estate pros came to the Westin San Diego for our event.

Snapped: IDEA Partners’ David Malmuth and Makers Quarter urban planner Stacey Pennington. Makers Quarter is a prime example of urban renaissance in Downtown, and one that actively engages the surrounding community, rather than imposing development top-down. Three years ago, there wasn’t a lot going on there, but since then it’s become “a lab to help inform what the future of the space is going to be,” as Stacey put it. Silo, SMARTS Farm and a lot of other events have engaged the community as a kind of ground-up dialogue. That’s important, because ultimately there’s going to be about 2.5M SF of new space in Makers Quarter.

AVRP Studios CEO Doug Austin and HP Investors principal Sumeet Parekh. To continue to thrive, Downtown San Diego needs to be an amenity-rich environment, including daytime food and beverage, nightlife, a variety of events and access to transit, the panel noted. Offices need to be amenity rich as well. Overall, a critical mass of amenities is important, but quantity isn’t everything. Cities also need idiosyncrasy — features you can’t find anywhere else that make it a distinctive place to be.

McKenna Long & Aldridge partner Marjorie Burchett, who moderated, and Cushman & Wakefield executive director Matt Carlson. People want to live in Downtown San Diego again, the panel explained, which bodes well for the area as a thriving neighborhood. One important characteristic of Millennials is that they prefer to live as close to their work and recreation as they can. But it isn’t just Millennials: empty nesters and some international residents also want to be in Downtown.

Emmes Asset Management VP Scott Grady, Swinerton Builders VP Mark Payne and Robert Green Co president Robert Green. Historically, Downtown’s been the haunt of lawyers and other traditional tenants, but now landlords want to attract new kinds of tenants, such as tech companies. Office buildings are beginning to offer the kind of space that young, talented tech workers want, and tech companies are taking notice, according to our panelists. Employers are coming Downtown to be near their talent pools.

Sheppard Mullin partner Donna Jones, who also moderated, Zephyr Partners co-CEO Brad Termini and Carrier Johnson + Culture design principal Gordon Carrier. One lingering obstacle to Downtown’s development is that the city doesn’t have much of a brand internationally, the panelists said. Investors know LA, San Francisco and Seattle (just to give West Coast examples), but not so much about San Diego. Still, as Downtown develops its unique features, and its renaissance goes on, that’s going to change. A critical mass of overseas investors and companies looking for US locations will come to know the place, and spread the word to others.