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Long-Time Mid-City Business To Become San Diego’s Next Coworking Space

Long-Time Mid-City Business To Become San Diego’s Next Coworking Space

Reported by Megan Burks

It's been a lumber store, an office for engineers working on the Atlas rocket, and supplied San Diego churches with religious goods for 50 years. Now KPBS reporter Megan Burks says the 3700 block of El Cajon Boulevard will live yet another life.

The owners of the Lafayette Hotel plan to bring businesses, restaurants and events to the O'Connor's Church Goods building.

Photo credit: Grasshopper Development

Plans for 37ECB at 37th Street and El Cajon Boulevard are show in this undated architect's rendering.

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It's been a lumber store, an office for engineers working on the Atlas Rocket, and supplied San Diego churches with religious goods for 50 years. Now the 3700 block of El Cajon Boulevard will live yet another life.

Grasshopper Development is in talks to purchase the O'Connor's Church Goods store on the border of City Heights and Normal Heights.

The San Diego firm restored the Lafayette Hotel in University Heights in 2010, keeping its stately 1940s brick façade but adding a young atmosphere—and a lot of pool parties.

It's planning a similar restoration of O'Connor's. The project, called 37ECB, will have workspaces for entrepreneurs and artisans, an event space and several restaurants.

Developer David Iwashita said the goal is to make that strip of the boulevard more vibrant and walkable for nearby residents.

"That's always been the feedback we've received in that area. You have over 55,000 people in a mile. It's more dense than downtown San Diego and the amenities aren't there," Iwashita said. "We'll give the ability for people to walk down the street and grab a cup of coffee, which they can't do now, and grow their business, partake in the community events."

Iwashita is using new market tax credits from the federal government, which incentivize developers to go into areas where the existing market conditions make it hard for projects to pencil out.

The 92105 ZIP code has long been considered an affordable place in the city for people, especially immigrants, to live and open businesses.

Iwashita said he's reached out to the International Rescue Committee, which has its San Diego offices in City Heights, and the City Heights Community Development Corporation to offer opportunities to locals. He said the tax credits will let him give breaks on rent and potentially offer small business grants.

The $9 million project has the blessing of the area planning committees, and the O'Connor family, which has a stake in the neighborhood.

The 80-year-old family business has been a fixture there since it bought the building from Convair in the 1960s. It's where Convair engineers worked on Atlas rocket designs.

Photo by Megan Burks

Isabel Hart restocks keychains at O'Connor's Church Goods on Sept. 23, 2015.

"My baptism outfit was from O'Connor's and I was baptized in 1972," said Isabel Hart, who's worked at the store for seven years. "And my parents came here to buy the first communion dress and rosaries. This business has been in everyone's family generation to generation."

The O'Connor's, who are involved with the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association, have played an active role in future plans for their building.

"We didn't go out and just put this up to the highest bidder," said son John O'Connor, who now runs the day-to-day business. "We wanted someone who was going to do right with the property and enhance the community, because aside from our business going to the next level, we wanted to make sure that the Boulevard continues as well."

O'Connor said the store will move to another building nearby. The 37ECB project is scheduled to open next summer.

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