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How Has Downtown San Diego Changed Over The Past 30 Years?

How Has Downtown San Diego Changed Over The Past 30 years?

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Today, downtown San Diego is a destination for locals and tourists who want to dine on good food, enjoy music and theatre, or catch a baseball game. But before Petco Park and the rebirth of the Gaslamp Quarter, downtown San Diego was a rundown, seedy place that many people tried to avoid. How did downtown go from tattered shop fronts to towering luxury condominiums? The answer lies in a series of stories about San Diego’s evolving downtown by KPBS metro reporter, Katie Orr. So welcome back Katie.

KATIE ORR (KPBS News): Thanks, Gloria.

PENNER: Why did you decide to focus on the history and the future of downtown development in your series?

ORR: Well, there's just so much happening right now. There are several major projects proposed for downtown. The neighborhood is growing. There are about 30,000 people living in downtown today. They expect that number to be close to 90,000 by 2030. So it’s just a thriving part of the city and I thought it was a good time to sort of look at some of the issues that are developing in the area. And as far as looking at the past, I thought it was just a good way to see what downtown was and how it’s evolved so far.

PENNER: And it really has changed hasn’t it?

ORR: Absolutely.

PENNER: Let’s talk about some of those issues. What are some of those issues that we feel we need to look at?

ORR: Well of course we’ve all heard about the major development projects – a new city hall, a new central library, expanding the convention center, and most recently, possibly building a new Chargers stadium on the east edge of downtown. But there are issues that we don’t hear about as much as well, such as creating a better infrastructure for all the people that are moving down there, improving the roads, building parks, putting up things like stoplights. You know, little things like that that don’t always make for a big story. There are also social service issues to consider. There is of course a large population of homeless people that live downtown. And so how does the city server their needs and also balance the needs of the people that have paid a lot of money to live in condos downtown and want to feel secure in their neighborhoods. It’s a balancing act.

PENNER: I was thinking about one thing that downtown does not have, and that’s schools. And yet families want to move downtown too. We think about the downtown condos as being for young singles and then older folks. But there are families who would look to go downtown. There aren’t any schools are there?

ORR: Well there's San Diego High School and I believe there are some charter schools. And families do live downtown and that is one of the issues that we are going to be exploring on the KPBS talk show, These Days, in the coming weeks. How do you raise a family downtown? Well what are some of the unique issues that living downtown poses? I mean, in many cities it’s really normal for families to live downtown. You know, New York, Chicago, big cities people live downtown all the time in. I think it will probably become more popular for downtown San Diego as that area grows.

PENNER: So let’s look back a little bit. Who was responsible for this major turnaround in downtown San Diego, because certainly when I came here it was a place I did avoid.

ORR: Well I think that many people did that. And Pete Wilson gets a lot of the credit for spurring the development when he was mayor of San Diego in the 70’s and 80’s. He was the one that sort of convinced developers to start projects in that area.

PENNER: Well we do have a clip from former San Diego Mayor, Pete Wilson, and he talks just about that. Here it is.

PETE WILSON (San Diego Mayor, 1971-1982): You could have fired a cannon down Broadway at five minutes past five and the old joke was you wouldn’t have hit anybody who wasn’t staggering. But it was an undeveloped resource that had enormous potential. I would take people who were visitors to the city up to the top of what tall buildings there were then. They’d look down on grade level parking lots, they’d look don on the tattoo parlors, they'd look down on the saloons, and they’d say well this is potentially some of the most valuable real estate in North America.

PENNER: Well it doesn’t look like that anymore. Does it?

ORR: No.

PENNER: No. You talked about the condos but going back to what Pete Wilson was saying, one of the major projects downtown that really started this shift was Horton Plaza.

ORR: That’s right. Horton Plaza was built, and around the time Horton Plaza was built the Center City Development Corporation was also formed. They're the city’s redevelopment arm for downtown. Their creation signified that downtown San Diego was now a redevelopment area and so a lot of the taxes generated down there could stay down there and go into these redevelopment projects. And so we had Horton Plaza built, and then the Gaslamp was redeveloped, and then eventually Petco Park was built and the East Village was developed around that as well.

PENNER: That redevelopment money is used when a community is thought of as blighted. You know, not meeting its full use for example.

ORR: Right. And actually CCDC is almost reaching its cap. It has a cap on how much money it’s able to take in and put back into the area. And in about ten years it expects to meet that cap. So they have already begun the process of trying to get that cap raised so that they can collect more money. And they say put it into, you know, parks and infrastructure. They have a list of projects that they want to accomplish.

PENNER: Well, we’re looking forward to your series Katie to learn a lot more. Thanks, Katie Orr.

ORR: Thanks Gloria.