City Council approves plans for $8 million improvement project
By DAVE FIDLIN | Downtown News
It has been touted as a project years in the making, but ultimately was made official after just minutes of discussion and unanimous support from San Diego decision-makers.
Children’s Park, a largely underutilized 1.4-acre green space at 326 W. Harbor Drive, is set to undergo $8 million worth of large-scale improvements that supporters say will give the site an opportunity to live up to its name.
According to city documents, the park’s refreshed array of features is to include a forest-themed playground area and picnic amenities. Also in the works is an adult exercise equipment area, off-leash dog running area and a vendor building that could serve as a platform for special events.
Additionally, the construction project, set to wrap in summer 2021, is to carve out new space for public art, a new walkway to the adjacent Civic Pond, a lawn area and attendant-staffed public restrooms.
The City Council on Dec. 17 issued several pivotal authorizations linked to the project, including approval of the overall plan and a compensation agreement with Civic San Diego, the agency that formerly handled all aspects of Downtown redevelopment.
Council member Chris Ward, whose district includes Downtown, said he believes Children’s Park and another closely aligned endeavor — construction of the first phase of the East Village Green park project — will net positive results in the years ahead.
“This was a big lift to get a monumental new park facility into the East Village community,” Ward said of the efforts to bring both proposals to reality. “This has been a very much ongoing project.”
Council member Scott Sherman also went on record in support of the projects before the formal vote was taken. Sherman said the use of such funding sources as park district revenues and development impact fees is a prudent use of the money.
“It’s for a good cause,” Sherman said. “I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”
According to city officials, none of the park’s $8 million worth of costs will be covered through the municipal operating budget.
In terms of sustaining the costs for the park, several speakers shared their visions to keep the park’s maintenance and upkeep directly off the city’s tax rolls.
“If it’s handled correctly, and we produce events, that will also generate some additional income,” David Hazan, past president of the East Village Association, said at the council meeting, in reference to rental income. “It’s been proven that people will come into the East Village … for events that are properly produced.”
Diane Peabody Straw, current president of the East Village Association, said there will be many benefactors of the park improvements — including, as she described them, the neighborhood’s “15,000 four-legged residents.”
“The many features that are planned for this park are incredibly needed and will go a long way in making East Village feel like a livable community,” Peabody Straw said.
The project also has the backing of other groups, including the San Diego Downtown Residents Group.
“I can’t thank the staff enough,” Gary Smith, the organization’s president, said. “The Children’s Park — from being a grass nothing if you look at the plans — will actually become a place the community will want to go.”
While the city and Civic San Diego formally severed ties this summer in response to a much-publicized court settlement about relations between the two entities, collaborative efforts have since continued.
In a jointly authored memo, Christina Bibler and Brad Richter of the city’s Economic Development Department clarified why Civic San Diego is still involved in the future of Children’s Park.
“The operating agreement, resulting from a lawsuit settlement, provides for Civic San Diego to implement the wind down of redevelopment activities and to provide the management and completion of specific projects,” Bibler and Richter wrote in the memo.
With the City Council’s stamp of approval in place, a timeline calls for Civic San Diego to prepare construction documents in January and award a contract in the first half of the year. Further plans call for construction to begin in July or August, which should take close to a year to complete.
Children’s Park’s roots stretch back 25 years. The current amenities were installed in 1995.
— Dave Fidlin is a freelance journalist with a special affinity for San Diego and its people. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.