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Building to Give Horton Plaza Garage a New Face

October 15, 1987|RALPH FRAMMOLINO | Times Staff Writer

The Horton Plaza garage--an open, concrete structure considered by many to be an intrusive eyesore in the heart of downtown redevelopment--could disappear behind a facade of new apartments, offices and stores along 4th Avenue, under a proposal unveiled Wednesday by San Diego redevelopment officials.

As a centerpiece for the proposed $6.3-million project, architects say they will build a large, space-age glass prism to refract light onto a dressed-up entrance of the Horton Plaza garage.

In unveiling the proposed project, John G. Davies, president of the Centre City Development Corp. board--the agency in charge of downtown redevelopment--said he was "enthused and excited" because the mixed-use development can help the city "convert a significant problem into an exciting opportunity."

"The way the Horton Plaza garage was designed, it was clearly unsightly," Davies said. "Originally, the hope was that we could clean it up because we thought it was something ugly."

When it became obvious that simply putting awnings on the east side of the monolithic concrete structure wouldn't be enough and that Horton Plaza developer Ernest Hahn wasn't interested in constructing an apartment complex, on building something next to the garage on 4th Avenue, Davies said.

CCDC officials said Wednesday that the project was thought to be "difficult" because the parcel opened for development is relatively narrow, running 48 feet wide and 350 feet long between the Balboa Theater and the Golden West Hotel on 4th Avenue.

Yet, the redevelopment agency received three proposals, after querying developers in June, and Wednesday announced a special subcommittee's choice of the winning bid. The selection will be forwarded to the full CCDC board on Friday for a decision on entering a 90-day negotiation agreement with the developer. The matter will then be referred to the City Council for its approval.

Shops and Restaurants

According to architectural drawings released Wednesday, the project chosen by the subcommittee would have nearly 6,800 square feet of shops and restaurants along the street level, with the second floor dedicated to more than 18,000 square feet of office space.

The third and fourth floors of the project would house at least 36 efficiency and one-room apartments, with estimated monthly rents beginning just under $700, CCDC officials said.

To help make the project economically feasible, CCDC would spend $1.2 million to purchase the rights to 75 parking stalls in the garage for workers and residents in the new development.

The agency would also pay $200,000 for the construction of a fire wall to seal off the east end of the garage, as well as installation of a mechanical ventilation system to carry car fumes out of the closed-off portion of the garage, said Gerald M. Trimble, CCDC's executive vice president.

In return, CCDC would become a 25% partner in the project and could take in $1.6 million over the next 10 years, he said.

Davies said that those financial terms were among the more favorable for the redevelopment agency and prompted the subcommittee to give the nod to this project out of the three proposals.

Anchor Tenant

He also said the project was favored because it is being backed by "a very strong development team." The team is Oliver McMillan Inc.; Morgan Dene Oliver; James L. McMillan; architect Richard Paul Buss, and his architectural firm, BSHA Inc.

Buss told reporters at Wednesday's press conference that his firm will become the anchor tenant in the project, occupying all of the office space on the second floor. The firm's current offices are at 1875 3rd Ave.

"We've always tried to be close to downtown and this is a great move for us," Buss said.

Gordon R. Carrier, an executive vice president for BSHA Inc., said the design of the project recognizes that the spot where F Street empties into the entrance of the garage is an "energy focus that unites both pedestrian and vehicular traffic."

Just south of the entrance, the architectural firm has proposed building a five-story glass structure, or "prism wings," to refract a "rainbow of light" from the sun over the development, said Carrier. Buss added that the prism sculpture was a way of incorporating public art into the facade of the building.

Another Project

Carrier also explained that residents in the 36 apartments will not hear noise or breathe fumes from the garage because of the fire wall. None of the apartments will have walls touching the garage fire wall, he added.

If it gains final approval, the development could be finished by late 1988 or early 1989, said Davies.

While the CCDC board will be considering the garage-front development Friday, it will also be asked to approve a 270-day negotiation agreement with developer Charles P. Tyson for a residential high-rise just south of Horton Plaza, across from Nordstrom.

Tyson has approached CCDC about developing the entire block, which is bounded by G Street, 2nd Avenue, Martin Luther King Way and 1st Avenue. Tyson owns half of the block, including the old Chinese Mission Building, which some historic preservationists want saved. A City Council decision on whether to put the building on the local register of historic places is scheduled for Nov. 10.

During the first 180 days, CCDC wants Tyson to negotiate with the redevelopment agency and the city over what to do with the mission, as well as with San Diego Gas & Electric Co. over what to do with a 10,000 square foot electrical substation.

The agreement would also give Tyson as long as six months to negotiate for the acquisition of two other 10,000-square-foot parcels on the block.

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