The Former Police Station Land Now Sits Vacant

 A Heart Transplant For La Mesa?

LA MESA -- The Village Property Based Improvement District debate can get tiring.
Months, even years, go by and the issue can quickly join the cross on Mt. Soledad and seals at La Jolla's Children's Pool -- seemingly insoluble conflicts in which the merits of the debate lose out to the intransigence of the combatants.
Maybe what is needed are game-changing proposals that shift the focus completely.

Here's an idea: A Heart Transplant for La Mesa.

Rather than fussing forever over how much to polish the few blocks between Fourth Street and Acacia along La Mesa Boulevard, let's encourage the building of a new downtown.

There are roughly ten open acres of land stretching from Interstate 8 along Spring Street to the vacant lot that was once the city's old police station. Much of the land is already publicly owned and the parcels that aren't public are owned by a civic-minded local family already interested in redeveloping the land.

The land borders the trolley line and is served by a bus hub -- the exact recipe regional planners are calling for future smart growth and development. In short -- it is a gold mine.

The roughly 1.5 acre former police station land has already been appraised at more than $8-million. The acres north of there, now designated for a "civic center'' in the city's General Plan, are worth many millions more. Add to it the possibilities already being probed for the Park Station land further north, and, in concept, you have a game-changer. Not many fully built-out cities -- Detroit is an exception! -- can point to such a blank canvas at its heart.

With the possibility of building America's next great downtown, La Mesa might even attract a developer of national caliber, someone who could put the Jewel of the Hills on the world map. Imagine tourists from cruise ships jumping on the Orange Line for a short train ride to the Perfect City. Take that Gaslamp!

It is natural that issues like the PBID in La Mesa Village stir such emotions. It is a pleasant stretch of street, a throwback to Mayberry even, and it is as close as La Mesa comes to having a "town square.'' It is lovely and with new streets and sidewalks, it will be even more pleasant. But a clear-eyed look at the mix of what now calls the Village home certainly suggests economic forces have already moved the traditional meaning of "downtown" elsewhere.

Once the economic heart of the city, La Mesa Village is now only a symbolic heart. There are as many businesses operating along the portion of La Mesa Boulevard between University and Jackson and, frankly, many of those businesses appear more inviting and vibrant than many in the cherished Village. For all its charm, the Village has become home to more service-oriented businesses - realtors, lawyers and financial advisers -- while retail has moved elsewhere. The city's list of significant contributors to its sales tax take relegates the Village to "sliver of the pie if that,'' as one city official put it.

With some creative thought and marketing to the open land that rests at La Mesa's heart, perhaps a New Village emerges, one that can carry its weight and can, with the refurbished Old Village nearby, sustain La Mesa's distinct image as one of America's great small towns, even as urban life grows up around it.

That settled, perhaps we can erect Jewish, Islamic and Atheist symbols on Mt. Soledad to accompany the cross and teach those seals to swim nicely with children in La Jolla!

Cases closed!

 

 

 

 

 

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Tags: Art Madrid, Chris Lavin, La Mesa Today, La Mesa news, La Mesa newspaper, On La Mesa, PBID, Park Station

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Comment by Don Wood on December 27, 2013 at 9:19am

The commercial heart of La Mesa was already transplanted when Grossmont shopping center was built. But that means less pressure to turn the city's center into another shopping center. Central La Mesa should house the best of what makes this one of the nation's best small towns. Think breakfast at Cosmo's, lunch at Swami's and dinner at Beau-Beau.  If you live in La Mesa, you're only 15 minutes from area beaches and 35 minutes from the mountains. Find more jewels to add to our little treasure box and don't fret about building more apartments and condo towers. Leave that to downtown San Diego. Our goal should be to make sure that La Mesa streets remain better than surrounding cities, that our police and fire services remain top notch, and complete our new civic center by selling off the old police station site and using the funds to build a new LEED platinum rates city hall.

Comment by Chris Lavin on July 31, 2013 at 12:17pm
Good point on the religion. Fixed. Thanks
Comment by Sara Kazemi on July 31, 2013 at 11:29am

I might be wrong, but it seems to me that many people move to La Mesa to escape the boisterousness of areas such as the Gaslamp. The places I cherish here (and near here) are notably more peaceful--Lake Murray, Cowles Mountain, and the "Secret Stairs" of La Mesa. I love that I can go elsewhere for louder entertainment and return home to La Mesa for quietness.

PS: Arabic is a language--not a religion. 

Comment by Kim Dumas on July 31, 2013 at 8:53am

I love your ideas Chris.  We were up visiting friends in Carlsbad Village this past weekend and I said to my friends, "I wish La Mesa Village could be more like this." Every restaurant was packed. Lots of people milling around and shopping.  Fun stores. Outside music and dancing. There was a great energy about it. 

Comment by David Stanley on July 28, 2013 at 8:27pm

Chris, as you probably know, I am totally skeptical of this PBID business and see it only as a political ploy coupled with a tax grab. Your thoughts and idea make far more sense than anything I have heard from any of the PBID mob. I really like that area surrounding the old PD offices and enjoy just meandering through pretty regularly. The only thing in your thoughts and suggestions I wonder about though is placing an Atheist symbol on Mr. Helix. What could it be? Perhaps a giant ZERO?

Comment by George "Feeshy" Fish Jr. on July 28, 2013 at 7:43pm

Excellent ideas, Chris. This reminds me of Santee that was built around a non-existent downtown that was mostly dirt. In recent years it has been filled in with huge infrastructure at the terminus of the Trolley. This has totally transformed Santee into a destination instead of a pit-stop. In around 1972, my dad and I leased our historic Van Waters & Rogers building in downtown San Diego to an amazing business called The Old Spaghetti Factory. That was the second (after Wong's Nanking Cafe) and is now the oldest restaurant in what would later be called the Gaslamp Quarter. And we all know what happened to the Gaslamp since then. It's now one of the hottest stretches of real estate in the country. But there's a downside to that "hotness." Not all restaurants in the Gaslamp Quarter last 41 years. Those new eateries that charge $25+ per plate don't last out their leases and there is a large turnover due to high and unrealistic rents and equally high and unrealistic expectations of profits. La Mesa Village has seen a lot of shuffling of commercial tenancies over the years. A tenant will move across the street for a better deal, until there are no better deals and then they move off the Village footprint altogether. And the real estate brokers (as was my father) expand to fill the small vacancies to add more desks for their increasing corral of agents. Then when a large commercial space opens up for a brokerage outside the Village footprint, they pick up and consolidate several smaller spaces into one large one, and the cycle goes on and on. What the Village needs is a whole bunch of cute little retail shops that attract buyers that spend money. What if the City of La Mesa mapped out these 10 acres into a magnet district like Seaport Village (but NOT like Marina Village), and became the landlord, much like the Port District? Food for thought. 

Comment by Lisa Moore on July 28, 2013 at 4:52pm

More wise thoughts coming from our Mayor....lol!  I'm sure the city of San Diego had different thoughts than our Mayor when they set out to develop the Gaslamp along with the businesses willing to take the risk.  Now look at what has developed.  Why can't the city of La Mesa leaders have such forward thinking ideas!

Comment by Mark Cavanaugh on July 28, 2013 at 2:43pm

Chris, didn't you listen to the Mayor last council meeting?  Bringing people to the City has no discernible value to the City, only the businesses in the City so why would the City spend millions to develop the area you are talking about if there is no discernible value to the City to do so?

Comment by chris shea on July 28, 2013 at 12:57pm

I think it sounds very thought provoking, Chris.  Just think of how invigorating it could be to the entire La Mesa business community.  I love my store at 8219 La Mesa Boulevard and think it's a fascinating prospect that people could head into the city and hit the new zone, then wander over to my area for, say, a tan, some waxing, all your billiard needs, a nice work out and then buy some flowers and cards to send to people you love.

I do think we all could get along better if we tried!

Comment by John C Schmitz on July 28, 2013 at 10:31am

Another insightful commentary from Chris.  I have long wondered why the City uses (wastes?) so much of it's political capital on a portion of the City that appears to have so little real beneficial impact on the lives of most La Mesa residents.  As a resident for close to four decades I do not automatically latch onto the Village as the heart and soul of my community.  Instead I think of the variety of commercial areas that each serve a different need for me: Grossmont Center for department store needs, scattered auto dealers and services, Fletcher Parkway for Costco and specialty items and services, and neighborhood centers for groceries and dinning.  I also think of La Mesa with pride in providing the schools, parks and recreational opportunities that are necessary for our families.  Makes you wonder what interesting things the City could do for our community if they weren't spending so much time herding the Village cats.

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