Updated: Mar 30, 2019
By Ann Berchtold
The recent announcement of a major creative office warehouse conversion in East Village / I.D.E.A. District called SuperBlock@I.D.E.A. District, provides an opportunity to review I.D.E.A. District—where it started and where it is now.
The I.D.E.A. District concept was conceived in 2010 by Pete Garcia and David Malmuth. The vision was driven by an economic and social development goal: to transform 35 city blocks in Downtown San Diego's Upper East Village into an innovation, design, education, arts and technology hub in order to create thousands of design and tech jobs and generate broad-based prosperity.
It was a big vision, perhaps audacious, because the developers leading the effort controlled neither land nor tenants. Not surprisingly, the idea was met by naysayers. The following comment, typical of many others, was made by Fred Maas in 2016 when trying to defend a downtown Chargers Stadium, "As for those dreams of other cool uses for the East Village blocks where the Chargers would like to put a stadium? Get real, Maas said. "The possibility of bringing some artistic, airy-fairy, consultant-based, planner-based plan to those blocks is impossible.”
What Mr. Mass missed is the power of a ground-level, thoughtful, community-driven plan. One that posits an "idea" and then lets community stakeholders participate in realizing the vision.
What’s happened over the past seven years has been inspiring. Three graduate students from the NewSchool of Architecture and Design, who in 2010 had participated in the original charette for I.D.E.A. District, transformed a vacant lot with shipping containers into a new community hub dubbed Quartyard. A new master plan for Maker's Quarter, which represents a quarter of I.D.E.A. District was created to cultivate a neighborhood for entrepreneurs, artists and makers. They turned one of their vacant lots were into a temporary entertainment hub called SILO. Urban Discovery Academy, San Diego's first downtown K-8 charter school, purposefully selected I.D.E.A. District as the location for its campus. And in 2016 UCSD announced it will bring UC San Diego Urban to the District—marking the first time a major research university will open downtown San Diego.
Below is a timeline of developments in I.D.E.A. District:
· Pete Garcia and David Malmuth meet for the first time. They embark on trying to develop a new kind of community in downtown San Diego that will drive prosperity for downtown and the region
· I.D.E.A. District Vision is shared with the East Village community at a planning charrette including 60 participants from Business, Arts, Government, Philanthropy
· The master Plan for Makers Quarter is unveiled which includes 2.2mm square feet, 1mm dedicated to office development and the balance to residential and retail
· Tactical Urbanism takes hold in I.D.E.A. District with projects like: SILO, Smart's Farm, and Quartyard
· Multiple housing projects, with nearly 750 units, and new restaurants open with more under construction.
· Urban Discovery Academy (UDA) campus, San Diego’s first downtown K-8 charter school, opens in I.D.E.A. District.
· IDEATE High Academy, opens its doors as the first design-thinking focused high school in San Diego.
· UC San Diego Urban announces it will move to I.D.E.A. District
· IDEA1 - a mixed-use residential development is completed
· Seer Interactive moves its West Coast headquarters to IDEA1
· Navarra Properties Unveils SuperBlock@I.D.E.A. District
· The Ratner (formerly known as The Art Center) is renamed and branded as an essential component of the ecosytem of I.D.E.A. District
· Lola55, Young Hickory, Ten Barrel Brewing, and Punch Bowl Social, as well as numerous other restaurants launch in I.D.E.A. District
· IDEA1 "Hub" becomes a venue for hosting numerous local art organizations and provides an office to Vanguard Culture for yearly art programming
· Block D, a 60,000 square foot creative office building located in Makers Quarter opens at 70% pre-leased.
· Broadstone Makers Quarter is completed
· F11 is completed
· SuperBlock will be unveiled and house the District’s largest office tenant
· UC San Diego Urban campus will open
· The first phase of East Village Green, a 4.1-acre multi-block will open. Projected to be the largest city-owned park in Downtown
· Trolley line will connect I.D.E.A. District to UC San Diego Main Campus and UTC
The revitalization of the East Village has spawned enormous development interest – most of which has been residential. East Village has now become the largest urban neighborhood in Downtown San Diego. The thriving enclave is home to more than 700 businesses including restaurants, hotels, art galleries and over 15,000 residential units with 4,000 more in the pipeline.
It is an important and necessary moment to refocus energy on how the original aim of I.D.E.A District - to build a vibrant jobs cluster at the intersection of design and technology - can be achieved. There needs to be purposeful development that provides the amenities and office space that will attract the kinds of employers who can benefit from downtown’s deep talent pool.
Eight years ago, 25 of the 35 blocks in the District had little or no development. Today, there are less than 10 blocks remaining. This underscores the urgency of acting with intention if I.D.E.A. District is to fulfill its original promise.