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April 24th, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Downtown San Diego

Author: Margaret Irving

I marvel at the transformation of downtown San Diego over the last few decades. Once a stagnant, blighted urban area where few wanted to live, downtown San Diego has become a vibrant and diverse place where people live, work, shop, dine, and play. As the economy flourished in the early 2000s, the revitalization of downtown accelerated. Where vacant lots and decaying buildings once stood, residential high-rises were built that beautified our skyline and contributed to the live/work community we know today. In fact, the building boom that began in 2001 included a combination of low-, mid-, and high-rise buildings that now account for 80 percent of downtown’s residential units.

Downtown’s residential resurgence began with two pioneering low-rise condominium projects, Park Row (1983) and Marina Park (1984). Adjacent to Pantoja Park, these two communities are lushly landscaped with beautiful gardens and outdoor walkways. Next came two high-rises, the Meridian (1986), encompassing 172 elegant residential units, and Harbor Club (1992) with twin towers 41 stories high, built on downtown’s “front row”. These developments were followed by two mid-rises, Watermark (1992), and City Front Terrace (1994). An elegant beauty, Watermark is constructed of concrete and steel, unique for a mid-rise. A portion of City Front Terrace is built as part of the historic Soap Factory warehouse, 10 stories high, and all brick! All six of these communities are found in the Marina District, and within walking distance of the Horton Plaza shopping mall (1985).

Along with new residential construction, downtown has seen the restoration of early 20th century structures such as the El Cortez (1927) on Cortez Hill, and Samuel Fox Lofts (1929) in the Gaslamp district, the heart of the city. Originally built as a luxury apartment hotel, and for years the tallest building in San Diego, the El Cortez is now a historic landmark, and sold as condominiums. Samuel Fox Lofts rarely has condominiums available for sale. More recent development has pushed the outer edges of the city, extending downtown’s neighborhoods to the Columbia district and East Village. Two recently built residential communities in Columbia are Sapphire (2008) and Bayside (2009), both luxury high-rises offering resort-like amenities, concierge service, pool, spa, sauna, library, fitness center, wine room, and 24-hour security, to name a few.

Many downtown high-rises have built-in commercial/retail space, separated from residences with street-level entrances. In these commercial/retail spaces, you’ll find businesses that include corporate offices, restaurants, art galleries, hair salons, and cafes. Horizons, Pinnacle, Alta, and the Meridian, for example, all feature ground-floor retail businesses. Pinnacle is home to a popular eatery, Richard Walker’s Pancake House.

Thanks to decades of comprehensive planning by the city’s redevelopment arm, Center City Development Corp. (now Civic San Diego), and the collaboration of engineers, architects, entrepreneurs and residents, downtown offers a variety of attractions that appeal to just about any interest. Wherever you might choose to live or work, you’ll find convenient shopping, parks, recreation, theaters, restaurants, nightclubs, and public transportation within short walking distance. Whether it’s a stroll along Market Street, where you’ll see trees decorated in blue lights during winter holidays, lounging in Children’s Park with its elaborate water fountains, attending a Padres game at Petco Park, or bike riding along the Embarcaderos, you’ll fall in love with downtown’s beauty and energy.

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