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Lured in by the promise of large-scale development in East Village, to be anchored by a state-of-the-art baseball stadium and filled with high-rise luxury condominiums, plenty of entrepreneurs took the plunge and opened businesses in the revitalized area known as the ballpark district.

It is a Tuesday evening, October 13, only a week after the Padres ended a forgettable 2009 season, and the neighborhood around the ballpark feels like a ghost town. Although the team drew a per-game average of 23,735, their lowest numbers since moving to Petco Park, it is evident that baseball fans — now that they’re not around — made a difference for local businesses. “It was a horrible season for us businesswise,” says the owner of a business who declines to give his name. “There were less people around, and they were spending less money. Sales were weak compared to the last two years. But you know what? There was still traffic. Now we’re on our own for the next few months.”

The streets are empty of people. On Tenth Avenue near J Street, just a block from the stadium, the businessman, whose dark hair shows signs of gray, stares at his neighborhood with tired eyes. He gives a sigh and continues, “We have dog walkers and homeless people pushing shopping carts. Aside from that there is not much foot traffic.”

The man points upward. “Look up at the condos.” As I glance at the windows of several high-rises, I see fewer than a dozen lights on, and it’s not even eight o’clock. “There’s nobody home,” he says.

“This is our neighborhood,” he continues. “It’s unfortunate, but I don’t believe there are enough people around here to sustain our businesses. That’s why so many of us are closing.”

Chad Cavanaugh, 36, still comes back to visit every now and then; after all, he called the area home for nearly three years. Tonight his six-foot-four frame makes him hard to miss as he walks around his old neighborhood, following his routine of checking in with local businesses and hanging out at his favorite shops. As a resident he was affectionately known by friends and neighbors as “the mayor of East Village,” a nickname earned for his penchant for learning everything about the area and befriending everyone who lived here.

In 2005, Cavanaugh sold units for the developer of the condominiums Fahrenheit, at Tenth and Island, and M2i, one block north. He purchased his own downtown loft. Eager to embrace the urban lifestyle, he subsequently became a downtown realtor specializing in the East Village. He describes the demand for condominiums in the area as “high” at the peak of the market. “There was a lot of high hopes for what this area was going to be with the ballpark going in.”

During the spring of 2004, Petco Park opened its doors. Many expected that the new central library, along with other commercial projects, would soon follow. “East Village was going to be the most self-sufficient neighborhood in downtown,” recalls Cavanaugh. “Seventh to Tenth Avenue on J was planned to be the restaurant row. The vision was huge.”

Today, restaurant row has several “Available” signs and vacant spaces. The site of the new central library, across J Street from Metrome, a mid-rise complex between 11th and Park Boulevard, is still an empty dirt lot. The sign on the fence announcing plans for the library has been taken down. Recent news is that the city council is still trying to get an idea of how much the project will cost. If the library’s built, early estimates have the completion date as sometime in 2013. As Cavanaugh tells it, “The main library was going to be a showpiece for the city itself. You have an area that wants to succeed. The potential was there.”

Jeremy Day, an East Village homeowner, also saw potential in the area. He moved into the Mark — a 32-story glass behemoth between Eighth and Ninth — in 2007. Not only did he decide to make East Village his home, but he also decided to start a business there. According to Day, he was attracted by the area’s demographics, mostly young professionals, who he believed would have spending power.

Day opened First Degree Tanning Studio in November 2008. It occupies a street-level retail space in the Fahrenheit building on Tenth. Now, a year later, Day acknowledges that business is very slow. “I think it has to do with several things, including the economy,” he says. “Most of the buildings are half full, or they’ve been bought by investors.”

Asked if he regrets moving in, Day at first says no, but then he says, “Well, it depends on what day you ask me. Lately a lot of regret, but it’s because we went through the summer, where every month was slower and slower, whereas the first six months were better and better, and I thought it was the best decision I ever made.”

Locked in by high lease rates and suffering from poor foot traffic, some businesses have pulled the plug. On the northeast corner of Tenth and Island is an empty storefront that once housed Market 32, a produce shop and smoothie bar that locals loved and that opened just this year. A long message taped on the windows partially reads, “We gave it our best shot but a combo of economic factors, lack of traffic and ultimately a lack of capital to keep the dream alive have all hurt us.”

The casualty list for the month of September alone includes Ninth Avenue’s Café Noir, a coffeehouse in the historical Hiatt House, built in 1886; Well Heeled, a salon in the Comerica building at Tenth and J; and Sluggers, an eatery on the corner of Park Boulevard and Market.

“It hurts us,” responds Day to the news of his neighbors’ closing. “If this whole block was filled out, we would be benefiting from our neighbors’ foot traffic. Different clienteles for different services. I’m thinking about diversifying my services. Surviving on tanning is going to work, but it’s going to take a lot longer to get on my feet.”

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Comments

pellis Nov. 11, 2009 @ 1:09 p.m.

I enjoy East Village a lot, but it was built in time of collective temporary insanity. Sure, the demographic in East Village may be young professionals now, but is it possible to fill all the very large, shiny condos and apartments with yuppies? Where are they all going to come from? It doesn't seem like the commercial buildings downtown are filling with businesses to supply jobs to this demographic of East Village tenants any time soon.

Without businesses bringing residents seeking convenience, prices will have to drop to attract retirees and blue collar workers and schools will have to come in to attract families.

I suspect this will all work itself out eventually. These buildings aren't going anywhere and if business doesn't come back, the market will punish the building owners until a happy equilibrium is met. Until then, I'll keep supporting the local businesses as much as I can afford to and hope for the best.

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bootsdady Nov. 12, 2009 @ 2:31 p.m.

Ha Ha, I was pondering that veary same question when they were building those buildings in 06,07. With the SunShine tax being as high as it is who can afford two,three grand or more in rent in San Diego?

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HonestGovernment Nov. 18, 2009 @ 9:09 a.m.

And yet......the CCDC and the City's Economic Development division never stop lusting after the dollars they can force businesses to hand over. The East Village Business Improvement District was initiated and formed by CCDC and various other City pro-privatization zealots this past May. The businesses that are struggling to survive now have the new requirement to pay a business tax to the East Village Association. This is extra business license tax of $250 to $600 annually, going to a private "nonprofit." For that, the empty and failing businesses may see powerwashing of sidewalks, expensive decorative trash cans, banners... yeah, that'll sure bring the customers and fill the condos. I, for one, always refuse to buy anything from any business unless I see that the sidewalk in front of the shop has been powerwashed!!! You can read all about it in the Council docket for May 26, 2009, Item-332.

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HonestGovernment Nov. 18, 2009 @ 9:31 a.m.

And while you're at it, take a look at the staff bios of the company contracted to promote the East Village BID:

http://www.southweststrategies.com/people.php

In San Diego, consultant contracts to promote privatized tax bases are a lucrative enterprise. The next best lucrative activity in San Diego is contracting with the nonprofits for services paid with the privatized taxes.

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SurfPuppy619 Nov. 18, 2009 @ 10:50 a.m.

CCDC ois nothing more than a gov extention/lobbying group of the major SD developers.

As for those condos and who is going to buy them-the answer is no one-at leats not at their current priccing levels.

I predict that virtually all high rise condo projects in the area will go back to the lenders-who will promtly sell them at a huge loss, depressing the markets even further. I have seen this too many time sin the past. The absolute worst example was the RTC back in the early 90's, who did sweetheart real etsate "pooling" deals with major REITS and big buck private parties, limiting the exposure and bidding to less than 2-3% of prosective buyers-thereby blocking out 95%+ of the market and getting the lowest of low ball prices for their buddies at teh REITS.

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Fred Williams Nov. 18, 2009 @ 9:27 p.m.

San Diego government still claims the Ballpark District and East Village are a stunning success.

Does anyone in San Diego believe them anymore? How can they expect us to believe them about their newest gifts to the wealthy and well-connected --

  • Another stadium for the Chargers
  • Another convention center expansion for the hotel owners
  • Another gift to John Moores in the form of a huge library with a "school" grafted onto it
  • A vast new City Hall

Malin Burnham, a business partner of John Moores, notorious Peregrine fraudster and corrupt owner of current and former public officials, tells the world that only the elite 1% can understand how these deals work.

Yes. It's true.

That one percent, of which Malin is a born member, stuffs their pockets with gobs of taxpayer money, while the ninety nine percent will be paying off development bonds for the next thirty years.

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JF Nov. 19, 2009 @ 7:07 a.m.

San Diego government still claims the Ballpark District and East Village are a stunning success.

It will be! We just need to build the new stadium first!

The ironic thing about the EVBID is that the people who are created it are the same folks opposed to actually paying for proper fire protection downtown. I'm sure you've heard me say that there are fewer firefighters stationed downtown now than there were 35 years ago. And the firefighters who are there are often already tied up with medical calls -- something that they didn't do back then. It's not unusual to find one engine available to cover from Point Loma to the Nat'l City border.

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SurfPuppy619 Nov. 19, 2009 @ noon

I'm sure you've heard me say that there are fewer firefighters stationed downtown now than there were 35 years ago.

By JF

===============================

35 years ago GED educated FF's didn't earn $200K per year in compensation.

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JF Nov. 22, 2009 @ 6:33 a.m.

35 years ago GED educated FF's didn't earn $200K per year in compensation.

Polly want a cracker?

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Ponzi Nov. 22, 2009 @ 8:17 a.m.

It doesn't look vibrant to me, it looks like a ghost town whenever I am in that area. It doesn't feel like a bustling city or busy neighborhood, it feels like it's under Marshall Law.

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HonestGovernment Nov. 22, 2009 @ 11:17 a.m.

The problem in San Diego, fumber, is that the Republican mayors and councilmembers treat taxpayer money like private toilet paper. Speaking for myself, higher city/county-wide taxes going into the General Fund would be very welcome! But to the Repub administrators in SD, the idea of real taxes is horrifying and toxic, at least if they want to appeal to their anti-tax supporters. But they do know the back door to privatizing taxation, and boy, they go in and out of it like slick little slime balls.

If all of the privately controlled tax dollars extorted from area-specific business owners and property owners, and handed over to individual area nonprofits to play quasi-government with, were instead rightfully collected from all city/county taxpayers and added to the General Fund, San Diego would be doing all right.

Millions and millions of privately controlled taxes are paying business associations and nonprofit exec directors undeserved salaries, $60K-$75K/year. Add to that their office supplies, office rent, websites, newsletters, insurance, on and on...there is very little bang for the buck for all of the imposed private taxes controlled by business associations/nonprofits. Check it out for yourself via 990 forms, BID/PBID/MAD/Redevelopment PAC council data and meeting minutes, and CDBG allocations.

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SurfPuppy619 Nov. 22, 2009 @ 11:22 a.m.

The problem in San Diego, fumber, is that the Republican mayors and councilmembers treat taxpayer money like private toilet paper

Fumblers comment was just removed.

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Fred Williams Nov. 23, 2009 @ 7:21 p.m.

HonestGovernment, you've put your finger on the situation. Those "associations/nonprofits" we support, whether we want to or not, or frequently staffed by insiders rather than professionals. They end up squandering a lot money on administrative expenses, expensive contracts for their friends, and high staff salaries.

But it's peanuts compared to CCDC's fraud, waste, and abuse.

Which pales in comparison with the tens of millions we give away, the well-documented result of bribery, to the Spanos and Moores sports-entertainment and real estate development companies.

Which is still just a speck compared to the financial hole we dug when we decided to raise pensions and benefits without planning to pay for them.

...and surprise! Those pensions and benefits were foisted on us by the union leaders who elected some of those politicians. Those union leaders leaned on city employees to keep their mouths shut about these scams...the city employees obeyed, helping to cover up the mess. They were paid to keep quiet about their fears for the future, and to not oppose the pipe dreams of the McGrory and Golden that bankrupted this city.

It's a full circle, or even a Mobius strip, eternally punishing the citizens of the city and enriching a small well-connected group of immoral swindlers.

To find the names of these swindlers, just search the UT archives for the last two decades with the key words "civic leader".

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DX Dec. 8, 2009 @ 2:06 a.m.

As a downtown/east village resident since 1994 many changes have been witnessed. In 1994 this area had definitely seen better days. The neighborhood had a real 1940/1950's vibe to it yet had apparently seen better days sometime earlier than when I moved here. As a newcomer to the area it wasn't me among those comlaining about anything and I was not among those pounding their pud about "upgrading the neighborhod." The flurry of building upgrades apparently have successfully resulted in much the same thing except now there is an early 21st century look them.

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