By Dave Fidlin
While plenty of questions still abound, a series of recent maneuvers are bringing into sharper focus the future of Downtown San Diego’s struggling Horton Plaza mall.
Retail is not a major part of the strategy.
In mid-June, Los Angeles-based Stockdale Capital Partners emerged as the future owner of 33-year-old Horton Plaza, which is currently in escrow.
According to its website, Stockdale currently has 14 properties in its portfolio, half of them in California. To date, Stockdale does not have a presence in San Diego. The company also has sites in Arizona, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas.
The pivot is notable for the sprawling five-story, 900,000-square-foot complex, which for the past 20 years has been under the ownership of shopping center operator Westfield Group. The company recently went through changes and now is under the auspices of Paris-based Unibail-Rodamco.
Representatives with Stockdale and Westfield did not return multiple calls for comment for this story. But recent reports indicate Stockdale plans to repurpose Horton Plaza for office use.
Neither conceptual details nor renderings have come to light on Horton Plaza’s next chapter, but local civic groups — including Downtown San Diego Partnership (DSDP) — have been briefed on Stockdale’s plans for the mall.
Betsy Brennan, CEO of DSDP, confirmed she has received a glimpse into Stockdale’s future plans for the site.
A major focal point in the new development — dubbed The Campus at Horton Plaza — reportedly includes new office space, particularly for the tech sector.
A retail component could still be a part of Horton Plaza’s future, particularly on the ground level. Other potential tenants alongside the office space could include restaurants and health and fitness amenities.
Brennan said the partnership intends to work collaboratively with Horton Plaza’s new ownership as further details come to the surface. She said she is optimistic about the opportunities in the road ahead.
“We look forward to engaging with The Campus at Horton Plaza team as they infuse new energy, as well as high paying and innovative jobs, in the heart of Downtown San Diego,” Brennan said.
Playing a role in helping shape Horton Plaza’s next chapter fits hand-in-glove into DSDP’s mission statement, Brennan said.
“For decades, the Downtown San Diego Partnership has supported thoughtful and vibrant development projects in our growing urban core,” she said.
Amid the backdrop of the imminent ownership change is a pending lawsuit initiated by Jim “Jimbo” Someck, owner of Jimbo’s …Naturally. The specialty grocer opened its Horton Plaza location nearly five years ago.
In an interview with Downtown News, Someck said he has been frustrated with the continuing decline of his Horton Plaza location.
When asked about the state of foot traffic at the store, Someck said, “It never got to where I anticipated it would get.”
Someck filed his complaint against Horton Plaza LLC with the Superior Court of California in San Diego on May 22, several weeks before news of the ownership change first surfaced.
For the foreseeable future, Someck said the Horton Plaza store will remain in operation as usual.
“We will continue to fulfill our obligations and will be paying our rent,” Someck said. “I’ve never closed a store.”
Someck said he has had “minimal interaction” with Stockdale representatives and remains open to maintaining a presence at a Horton Plaza, depending on the specific plans for the site.
What is certain, Someck said, is his commitment to maintaining a presence in one of Downtown’s neighborhoods.
“We definitely would like to have a continued presence Downtown,” Someck said in the interview. “I think it has great potential.”
In Jimbo’s seven-page complaint, which a reporter obtained through the Superior Court’s open records portal, Someck and his legal representatives have taken aim at the mall’s ownership for failing to make upgrades.
One passage in the complaint states, “Jimbo’s was harmed as a direct consequence of Horton Plaza’s breach of its duties under the lease in that Jimbo’s has expended millions of dollars to design, construct and open its store at Horton Plaza.”
The complaint further alleges the local grocer “has lost millions of dollars in sales as a result of Horton Plaza’s failure to perform the duties and obligations that were Horton Plaza’s responsibility under the lease.”
Someck’s suit against mall ownership also characterizes the mall as “a third-rate shopping mall that feels desolate and abandoned, where crime has flourished and shoppers and retailers alike are concerned for their personal safety.”
The complaint further states “Westfield’s complete disinterest in maintaining Horton Plaza was appropriately demonstrated when it did not even bother to decorate the mall for the holiday season in 2017.”
San Diego is not the only city in the U.S. with a struggling mall. A confluence of factors — including the rise of e-commerce and consolidation in the retail industry — have contributed to the growing number of declining shopping malls in all geographic areas of the country.
—Dave Fidlin is a freelance journalist with a special affinity for San Diego and its people. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.