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Downtown San Diego Has Work To Do

I.D.E.A. Partners co-founder Pete Garcia says San Diego has been very successful in building neighborhoods, but net-zero jobs have been created in Downtown, which has been unable to attract a major company. Pete is among our presenters at Bisnow’s San Diego Annual Office Forum on June 23.


We caught up with Pete (here with his wife, Beth, on vacation in Madrid) to find out what he thinks needs to happen to jump start an innovation economy in Downtown. He tells us there is a whole list of challenges standing in the way of getting innovative companies to locate Downtown.

Pete points out most Downtown office buildings were built in the '70s and '80s and have small, skinny floor plates. Innovative companies want large, open floor plates, like those found in old industrial buildings, to create a collaborative environment. San Diego’s industrial buildings were built in the '70s, '80s and '90s and are not located in the urban core, Pete says, noting, “If we had a lot of old buildings, we’d be further ahead.”


He contends the city’s leadership is risk-averse, arguing without risk, there can be no gain. Pete notes SD’s two biggest accomplishments, Balboa Park (above) and UCSD, were built 100 years ago and 40 years ago, respectively.

Balboa Park was developed to host the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition, held to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal, and later improvements were made to host the second World's Fair: The 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition.

UCSD was established after WWII to educate veterans, with the US Navy closing Camp Matthews in La Jolla and transferring the land to the University of California system.

He says development of SD’s life sciences-biomed cluster is an amazing example of public-private leadership and that San Diego's biotech sector was initiated by UCSD professor Dr. Ivor Royston, an oncologist, researcher, scientist, entrepreneur and venture capitalist, who along with his associates established the first biotech company and went on to form and invest in dozens more.

While the presence of UCSD fueled its evolution, the push to grow a life sciences-biotech industry was led by then-Mayor Pete Wilson in the '70s by providing startups financial and other incentives to help expand.


“Today, we don’t have the money to fill potholes, let alone invest in public financing,” Pete continues. “Taxes are low, so the most the city can do is open a little park here and there. Leadership is about taking chances, not relying on (perfect) weather (to attract talent and employers). Some of the best cities in the world have bad weather. The ethos of this city is everyone likes living here and wants to keep it like it is, but we need to compete in a world market.”

Pictured above is San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer giving an re-opening address at Downtown's updated, historic Horton Plaza Park last month.


I.D.E.A. Partners’ I.D.E.A. District in East Village is poised to become the city’s innovation cluster. A JV of I.D.E.A. Partners and Lowe Enterprises is underway on IDEA1 (pictured), a $100M mixed-use project that occupies one city block. The first project in the planned District, IDEA1 is designed to serve as both a model and catalyst for future development needed to grow an innovation economy.

“We thought if we built it, they would come,” Pete says. “We had a lot of followers, but what we needed was capital, as the project was originally designed 50/50 office and residential, but to get funded, it had to be redesigned as mostly residential."

In addition, there is an ability to change course and pivot, as a 50k SF concrete portion of the structure, which is under construction, is occupied by live-work units that can be converted to creative office space.

Pete points out the most enlightened investors are the least risk-averse, because they realize social trends have changed. “Those investors (are) building something people want, not just what they consider safe,” he explains, pointing out mixed-use doesn’t have to be an all-in-one building, but rather uses that work together to create what tenants want.


“What we need is progressive public-private partnerships to grow a 21st Century economy,” Pete stresses. “Jobs follow talent. Talent wants urban innovation. We have the bones, but need to be intentional to make it happen."

Noting that Barcelona is similar to San Diego in size and climate, Pete cites Barcelona’s innovation district, dubbed 22@Barcelona, which transformed 494 acres of the old industrial Poblenou area to a high-quality environment for working, living and learning. It provides modern spaces for a concentration of intensive knowledge-based activities. The eight-year-old district has 1,441 companies and 42,000 jobs, he says.


This effort, which involved urban redevelopment, was led by Barcelona’s forward-thinking Mayor Jordi Hereu. “It took an intensive public-private effort in doing that,” Pete continues, pointing out the Portland Pearl District and South Lake Union neighborhood in Seattle, where Amazon is located, also are results of public-private relationships.

Hear more from Pete and other Downtown stakeholders at Bisnow’s San Diego Annual Office Forum on June 23, beginning with breakfast and networking at 7:30 am, at the Westin San Diego, 400 W Broadway. Sign up here!