By Andrew Keatts for Voice of San Diego

Let’s try this again.

The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation is again working on a plan it has pursued for years: developing almost 60 acres it owns in the area surrounding Market Creek Plaza in the Diamond neighborhoods of southeastern San Diego into a town center that would deliver affordable homes, job opportunities and neighborhood amenities to a community that has been historically ignored by private development.

There’s been a series of stops and starts with that plan, ever since the nonprofit group completed the existing retail center at Market Creek Plaza and the adjacent office and community meeting complex, where its headquarters are located.

But earlier this month, the center asked private developers and planners to propose how to comprehensively develop all the properties the organization owns and make sure all the new projects complement one another.

The organization wants a vision for a housing-dense hub focused around the neighborhood’s trolley and bus stop. That’s consistent with the idea the organization began discussing years ago, when it promised $500 million in projects, including 1,000 new homes and hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and retail space.

Image courtesy of the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation

All of the properties owned by the Jacobs Center, plus the trolley station owned by MTS, that are part of the center’s plan to build an urban village at Market Street and Euclid Avenue.

 

Jacobs Center CEO Reginald Jones said he hopes to hire a consultant soon, and unveil the specific long-term plan for all its land by the end of April.

The organization’s board would approve the plan by June, and Jones said he even hopes to have one or two specific projects lined up to get started shortly thereafter.

He wants the entire project to be finished and built out within eight to 10 years.

Market Creek Plaza opened at the corner of Market Street and Euclid Avenue in 2001; it was intended to anchor the urban village once the Jacobs Center started buying up property in the area three years later.

But during years of outreach to ask the community what it wanted, and how to make it happen, Jacobs’ leadership ran into neighbors who were apprehensive of outsiders coming into the area making promises. The organization ran into its own financial challenges, too, leading to a leadership overhaul.

That’s to some extent given way to fatigue over talking the issue in circles for a decade.

“I think they’ve done enough outreach, they’ve got enough feedback,” said Ken Malbrough, chair of the Encanto Neighborhoods Community Planning Group.

The Jacobs Center says it’ll rely on everything it heard the last time around in building its final blueprint.

It’ll also have one more major advantage: Two weeks ago, the City Council approved a new community plan for the area, a set of development regulations intended to outline and manage neighborhood growth well into the future.

That also means new projects that fit in the community plan’s framework can get approved more quickly, making them considerably less expensive – and potentially more attractive – for potential developers.

Malbrough said that should help things go more smoothly, but after years putting that plan together he’s still ready to see someone actually put a new building in the ground.

“As a chair person for the planning group, I’m not going to say, ‘Everything is good now, we got a plan,’ he said. “There is more work to do.”

Jones said whatever projects come forward as part of its master plan will fit within the restrictions outlined in that community plan. It’ll lean on the consensus built into that plan for whatever it does.

“What this should do, with a community plan and a master plan that conforms to it, should enable us to aggressively move on and plan and complete it as it has been pending for some time,” Jones said.

He’s even asked developers to consider updating or reimagining Market Creek Plaza as part of the organization’s new blueprint.

“We need to look at repositioning that in terms of new development around it,” he said. “The mall is going on 10 years of life, and we can look at it in terms of a holistic community plan.”

Jones acknowledges, though, that the development he’s looking to spur will requires public subsidy. Private developers won’t be drawn to building in the area, even with a plan that allows for increased housing density, unless they get a slice of public funds to make the project financially viable.

When the Jacobs Center first discussed its vision, that money might have come from redevelopment, a state program funded by property taxes. But the state killed redevelopment four years ago.

Civic San Diego was formed from the carcasses of the organizations that handled redevelopment in San Diego. Even after redevelopment ended, Civic San Diego has been able to live on, looking for new ways to stay alive by managing urban renewal efforts.

Now, Civic San Diego might end up investing in the Jacobs Center’s plans after all, Jones said. Civic San Diego recently got the green light from its board to hire Forsyth Street Advisors, a New York-based financial consultant and affordable housing financier, to create a $40 million fund to invest in affordable housing and other projects located near major transit stations.

Jones also said they’re looking to two other federal funding sources, Community Development Block Grants and New Market Tax Credits, as options for public investments into the effort.

“It is absolutely the case that we need public subsidy and it’s more challenging without redevelopment, and we need to be creative and innovative,” Jones said. “But public infrastructure investments would help spur development, too.”

 

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