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Horton Plaza: Wilson’s Grand Plan Gets An Update

Roger Showley, a growth and development reporter for U-T San Diego, talks to KPBS about the history of redevelopment in downtown San Diego.


Roger Showley, Growth and Development Reporter, U-T San Diego


The beginning of demolition last week of the "old" Robinsons-May building (circa 1985) to make way for the expansion of Horton Plaza Park is a reminder that this is only the most recent redevelopment of downtown San Diego.

The first full-scale resurrection of downtown was begun in 1971 with the election of Pete Wilson as mayor of San Diego. At the time, there were city government offices and other businesses downtown during the day, but empty streets at night, except for the sailors and drunks.

"You could have fired a cannon down Broadway at five minutes past five," Wilson told KPBS, "and the joke was you wouldn't hit anybody who wasn't staggering. It was a ghost town after five o'clock."

Persuading Ernie Hahn, the developer of suburban shopping malls, that before he got permission to build University Town Center near La Jolla, he ought to strongly consider erecting a major shopping center in derelict downtown took some brass.

Next, Wilson worked on housing developers like George Pardee to convince them that, they, too wanted to build downtown, this time apartments and condos. The restaurants and nightlife followed, and the Gaslamp Quarter was born.

Fast forward to 2012, and renewal has begun again. The fortress-like Westfield Horton Plaza Center will eventually be re-configured, beginning with the new entrance it gains from the city's expansion of Horton Plaza Park.

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