Imagining the future

By Kris Michell | Downtown Partnership News

More than two years ago, the Downtown San Diego Partnership asked communities throughout the San Diego region to “Imagine Downtown.”

And, boy, did they ever.

Kris Michell, President and CEO of SDDP

Kris Michell, President and CEO of SDDP

With the support and financial backing of The San Diego Foundation’s Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement, the Downtown Partnership implemented an extensive outreach effort that included 38 town halls — 26 held outside of Downtown — and an online survey. Through this process, more than 6,000 San Diegans weighed in on the future of Downtown San Diego.

Coupling that feedback with best practices from around the globe, the Downtown Partnership developed “Imagine Downtown,” a 20-year strategic vision to revitalize our urban center. Released in October of 2013, “Imagine Downtown” serves as a to-do list on how to best create a world-class Downtown that serves and advances the aspirations of the entire San Diego region.

In the year and half since it released “Imagine Downtown,” the Downtown San Diego Partnership has worked hard to ensure that this vision isn’t some plan collecting dust on a shelf. We have made tangible progress in delivering on its overarching goals as well as on the nuts-and-bolts tactics.

Here are some highlights of our accomplishments to deliver a world-class Downtown like no other. 

Build your business

The Partnership has begun to implement a robust economic development strategy to grow and attract businesses to Downtown, especially in the innovation sector, as well as position Downtown as a hub for our bi-national mega region. Those efforts include:

  • Helping lure new tenants to Downtown including Bumble Bee Foods, Kleinfelder, AECOM, Cypress Insurance, Southwest Strategies, and
  • Commissioning UCSD Extension to conduct a comprehensive demographic study of Downtown, with the first phase to be released this spring.
  • Sponsoring a variety of educational forums on to highlight emerging industry clusters in Downtown including digital marketing, tech startups and cybersecurity.
  • Developing “San Diego Innovates,” a comprehensive economic development strategy for growing Downtown’s innovation sector, and working with Mayor Faulconer on those efforts.
  • Holding events that connect business and tech entrepreneurs on both sides of the border to bolster our bi-national economy.

Made to move

Making Downtown easy to get to and around was another key priority for the Partnership. Our work to improve mobility Downtown includes:

  • Working with Civic San Diego to create a real-time parking app, which is scheduled to launch in spring 2015.
  • Partnering with Civic San Diego to develop an on-demand circulator system that will help move people in and around Downtown, which is scheduled to launch by the end of summer 2015.
  • Offering discount transit passes to participating Downtown businesses to encourage the use of public transit to and from Downtown.

Create the vibe

To deliver a vibrant and engaging Downtown, the Partnership worked to implement a comprehensive placemaking strategy to activate public spaces and has helped foster a distinct arts and cultural scene. Highlights of these efforts include:

  • Launching the first-ever “Sounds of Summer” pop-up concert series, offering performances by local musicians on street corners and in parks and plazas throughout Downtown.
  • Implementing an extensive and decorative tree-lighting initiative, lighting more than 500 trees through the Clean & Safe program.
  • Working with design firm RAD Lab and property owners HP Investors to create the “Pocket Park” at 13th and J Street to provide a unique community gathering spot in the East Village.
  • Launching “Healthy Living in the City,” a Downtown wellness initiative with Scripps Health, that offers free lunchtime strolls, cooking classes and yoga sessions in unique urban locations. The inaugural yoga class was held on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum and attracted more than 400 participants.

Make your place

The Partnership has also worked hard over the last year to ensure that Downtown’s distinct neighborhoods are safe and attractive with a mix of housing and education options to encourage diversity. Those efforts include:

  • Developing a multi-faceted anti-panhandling campaign called “Make Change Count” centered around Downtown’s donation stations, or red meters, to reduce panhandling and raise funds for programs to address homelessness.
  • Preparing to welcome Urban Discovery Academy — an award-winning charter school serving grades kindergarten through eight — for the 2015-2016 school year.
  • Expanding our beautification efforts, installing planters and hanging baskets in Downtown neighborhoods as well as landscaping medians with drought-tolerant plants.

Those are just a few highlights of what we’ve accomplished in the last year. We look forward to working with the community in the coming year, to not only continue to imagine Downtown but also deliver real results.

—Kris Michell is the president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, a nonprofit, member-based organization that serves as the leading advocate for the revitalization and economic health of Downtown. To learn more about the Downtown Partnership, visit

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