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A City Heights Ballroom Stuck in Redevelopment Limbo

A Ballroom Stuck in Limbo

Above: The Silverado Ballroom restoration is stuck in limbo as San Diego sniffs out redevelopment scraps. Video by Brian Myers, Media Arts Center San Diego.

Situated on one of City Heights' busiest street corners, University and Euclid avenues, the Silverado Ballroom is easy to miss. Its street level windows advertise discount furniture, like many others in City Heights. Its peachy beige color fits right in, too.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

Built in 1932, the Silverado Ballroom in City Heights was slated for restoration when redevelopment ended in 2011.

The Silverado Ballroom, shown here in 1948, was a dance hall and hosted country music stars such as Kitty Wells.

But look up and the picture changes. Elegant art deco curves on the second level begin to tell a story of 1930s glamour, couples reuniting at postwar dances and visits from music legends like Kitty Wells — if you can look past the peeling paint and ragged curtains.

As a perpetual stream of cars and buses zoom past, the Silverado Ballroom is stuck.

It was slated for restoration this year under an agreement between building owner David Chau and the city, which approved $1.5 million in redevelopment funds for the project.

But in 2011, the state pulled the plug on redevelopment, absorbing the funds to balance its budget and throwing $220 million in City Heights projects in limbo.

The decision also put Chau, a computer engineer and entrepreneur, in a precarious financial situation.

He's already sunk $170,000 of his own money into the restoration — money he says is his fair share for the project, which would yield an event space he could rent out for parties and weddings.

But Chau has also lost about $100,000 in rent money after relocating his tenants shortly before redevelopment ended. He was weeks away from construction at the time. Since then, Chau hasn't been able to find new tenants because he can't guarantee a long-term lease.

"I can't afford to keep the building vacant," Chau said.

Jeff Graham, president of Civic San Diego, the successor agency for the city's former redevelopment outfit, said relief could come this summer. The state is expected to tell the city whether it can spend proceeds from bonds the city previously sold against property tax increment increases.

Graham said, however, that since the bonds won't cover the whole lot of City Heights projects in limbo, Civic San Diego will likely ask community members to reprioritize. Some pending projects could fall to the bottom of the list; others could remain stalled as Civic San Diego looks for money elsewhere.

Chau and Silverado would be up against infrastructure projects residents have long rallied for — better sidewalks, more streetlights and fewer neglected foreclosures.

But City Heights also has a soft spot for the ballroom.

The Silverado Ballroom sits on the corner of University and Euclid avenues. The intersection was the last stop for San Diego's trolley line, which was pulled out in 1949.

It completes a trio of historically significant buildings in the neighborhood, all positioned around University and Euclid. The intersection was the end of the line for San Diego's original streetcar trolley, which was removed in 1949.

To the south is an elaborate Egyptian revival building that once housed the streetcars. It's now Big City Liquor and houses rows of liquor bottles and beer.

To the east is Euclid Tower, an 80-foot structure originally used for a drive-in soda fountain. It's since become the Tower Bar and a landmark in City Heights. In 1995, the community painted the building in vibrant colors and multicultural motifs that can be seen from side streets.

Richard Bundy, an architect, has taken a particular interest in reviving the corner. He and architect David Thompson helped restore Euclid Tower when it began to lean dangerously to one side. Bundy also created the renderings for the Silverado restoration.

He and Chau recently decided to move forward on the project and cross their fingers for funding. They'll start with some bright paint.

"That will be the one thing," Bundy said, "that everyone's going to look at and can't believe that building has been there and they haven't noticed it before."

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