A recently approved housing and retail development plan located immediately south of the SDSU Transit Center could displace some College Area businesses including KB Books, while bringing in businesses such as Trader Joe’s and Chili’s Bar & Grill.
The California State University Board of Trustees unanimously approved the Plaza Linda Verde project last month after nearly two decades of dialogue between San Diego State and the College Area community.
The board also approved an amendment to the university’s master plan to include property south of SDSU, between Aztec Walk and Montezuma Road. This change will allow developers to negotiate street vacations from the City of San Diego to acquire property or to purchase additional parcels if property owners decide to sell.
History of Plaza Linda Verde
SDSU Director of Media Relations and New Media Greg Block said the project has a long history, including an unsuccessful attempt to use state redevelopment funds. Previously, the project was called Paseo Place.
KB Books owner Ken Appel said businesses were told there was not space available for them in the new plan. Appel claimed the university excluded some businesses in order to shut down its competition.
“The redevelopment agency was playing hardball with these property owners saying you’re either with us or we’re just going to condemn your property anyway,” Block said. “This time, we’re allowing people to decide at their own pace.”
The new Plaza Linda Verde project plans to use bonds to finance construction instead of state redevelopment funds, previously called Paseo Place.
“We’re very clear in our (environmental impact report) that we would not use eminent domain,” Block said. “What we would do is seek to collaborate with property owners or purchase the properties outright.”
Appel said he’s skeptical, because of his experience with the previous Paseo Place redevelopment agency.
“They’ve pledged that this will be a kinder and gentler process with the community,” Appel said. “I hope they live up to that.”
According to the project’s website, new residential housing for 1,600 students will be built, similar to Piedra Del Sol and Aztec Corner. Developers aim to bring a grocery store such as Trader Joe’s, and a national brand restaurant, such as Chili’s Bar & Grill, to the area.
“Our community welcomes quality retail,” executive director of the College Area Economic Development Corporation, Jennifer Finnegan, said.
“The project reflects the wishes of the community, the needs of the student population and the type of project the College Area Business District hopes to see more of in the future.
“Initially construction will be bonded and then it will be paid back by money from the project, through rental money and leasing,” Block said.
Block said before construction can begin, the economy needs to turn around.
“We need funding back into higher education so we can admit more students so there’s actually a need for building,” Block said. “As soon as our enrollment goes back up then hopefully we’ll have the need to build it, right now we’re at zero growth.”
The current student enrollment at SDSU is about 29,000, but, according to Block, SDSU’s long-term goal is to grow to 40,000.
Will there be a KB Books?
A decision about the fate of KB Books is far in the future. The plot of land where KB Books rests is included in the second phase of reconstruction. The university said the first phase may begin in 2013.
“We’re not saying at this point that there won’t be a KB Books in our project but that will be up to the open market,” SDSU Director of Government and Community Relations Tyler Sherer said. “Hypothetically, KB could say ‘we want to negotiate with you and move across the street.’ It could happen.”
Despite the contentious nature of the past, Appel said he does see the benefit of improving the run-down area surrounding SDSU for the community. “I hope that we can work in a true spirit of cooperation,” he said.