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Economy

Group Hopes Empty City Heights Lot Will Spur Economic Development

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The San Diego Latino Film Fest account posts an image from a movie night at an empty lot in City Heights, July 16, 2016.

Group Hopes Empty City Heights Lot Will Spur Economic Development
Following the success of its recent pop-up film night in a vacant City Heights lot, a local business group hopes to further develop the empty space into a community hub.

Dozens of people this weekend filled a dirt lot at Central Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard to watch an animated movie about a young chicken's transformative journey.

The pop-up film event is the first to come from the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association since it acquired the lease earlier this year, and the group is making plans to ensure it's not the last.

At its July economic development meeting Wednesday, the organization discussed future developments at the lot, known as #PopUp15, because of its proximity to the Interstate 15. The association's marketing coordinator, Beryl Forman, said the group is focused on building out the space.

"While we do have a container on there now and there's furniture in there so when we have movie series we can put something together that makes it comfortable, our goal is to include landscape shading, maybe a platform area, different functionalities so the lot is much more inviting than it is currently," Forman said in a phone interview.

The landscaping improvements are expected near the end of the summer, she said, and a future attraction at the site could include a bike valet.

California did away with redevelopment agencies years ago, leaving a gap to be filled by community organizations such as the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association. The association has had past success revitalizing underutilized spaces, Forman said, such as the monthly Boulevard Market that's held in a parking lot.

Forman said the group has had its eye on the #PopUp15 property and another vacant space near the Copley-Price Family YMCA for several years, and decided to act when the city improved public transportation in the area.

"Now that the two bus rapid transit lines are actually functioning, one's being built out further on the freeway, we feel it's time to rev up and make sure that economic development comes around," she said.

The El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association receives grant money from the city and county of San Diego, plus dollars from mid-city parking meters and the area's businesses, but Forman said the group will fundraise to further enhance the empty lots. It is also looking to partner with other organizations on events.

The current Latino film series at the site is a collaboration with the Media Arts Center and its Latino Film Festival. The Saturday-night program runs through the end of this month.