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Black hole development in Little Italy

Former Reader building slated for demo

Architectural rendering (southeastern view)
Architectural rendering (southeastern view)

One block of West Date Street, between Columbia and India, was permanently closed to car traffic on December 1st for the groundbreaking of Piazza Famiglia, a European-style pedestrian plaza projected "to become the new 'heart' of Little Italy" in 2016. Plans for the public square include "classic Italian architectural details and design," including a fountain and paving tiles. It will have space for the stalls of the weekly Mercato farmers’ market and host cultural performances and events.

Plans for the 10,000-square-foot plaza came about primarily as a collaboration between property management company HG Fenton and district management corporation the Little Italy Association, with assistance from city officials and Civic San Diego.

Marco LiMandri, Todd Gloria, Kevin Faulconer

It began in the fall of 2012 with Fenton's acquisition of the old San Diego Reader building at 1703 India Street (at the corner of Date). At that time, according to remarks made by Fenton CEO Michael Neal before the groundbreaking ceremony, Little Italy Association chief executive administrator Marco LiMandri approached him with the idea for a public plaza. As Neal put it, "Marco sat us down and said, 'Welcome to our neighborhood. And by the way, we have a vision for what we want to have occur here, and we'd like you to help us bring that vision to life.'" He then added, "As many of you know, if Marco asks for something…well, that's why we're here today."

Indeed, LiMandri's suggestion bore fruit. In the two years since, Fenton has purchased all the remaining properties on the block and, along with the construction of the plaza, will replace them with new mixed-use buildings featuring underground parking, storefronts, and apartments. Each of these buildings will face the piazza, offering 125 residential rentals and nearly 14,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and restaurant space.

The only current structure remaining will be the one housing the Princess Pub, which holds a lease good until 2020. Another building, the century-old Giacalone house at 529 W. Date Street, will be transported to nearby Washington Elementary School, where it will be converted to a restroom serving the school's public-access park.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer and city-council president Todd Gloria were present at the groundbreaking and also spoke to the small crowd gathered prior to the ceremony, each praising the joint corporate-government partnership. Faulconer said it "shows you what happens when everybody works together with a shared vision." Gloria suggested such collaboration "is the only way we're getting stuff done here in the 21st century."

Planning documents from Civic San Diego indicate up to one million dollars will be allocated to the piazza project by the city, to be drawn from Development Impact Fee Funds. These are fees collected from commercial developers that are intended to fund affordable housing.

To that extent, one of the properties Fenton plans to build on the south side of Date Street will feature 11 apartments designated affordable housing, which Gloria called a "reflection of the fact that Little Italy wants to have people at all income levels in this community."

The "affordable" units will require applicants to be at or under 65 percent of the city's annual median income (AMI). Based on the 2014 AMI, this means the maximum income for applicants would have to stay below $47,255, limiting maximum rent to below $1200.

Before the ceremonial shovels were used to break ground for a staged photo op, LiMandri, whom Gloria called "a force of nature" and was once described by Reader reporter Don Bauder as "politically powerful," took his turn at the podium. He took the opportunity to thank and praise collaborators who contributed to the ambitious revitalization project and reminisced about the neighborhood's 100-year history.

At one point, he pointed at the soon-to-be-demolished Reader building and said, "This building used to be the old Falco's market, and then it became the Wine Cellar in the 1980s, and then it became a black hole for about 20 years." Asked to clarify what he meant by "black hole," LiMandri declined to comment, though context suggests he was referring to the 20 years the Reader spent in the Little Italy property.

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Architectural rendering (southeastern view)
Architectural rendering (southeastern view)

One block of West Date Street, between Columbia and India, was permanently closed to car traffic on December 1st for the groundbreaking of Piazza Famiglia, a European-style pedestrian plaza projected "to become the new 'heart' of Little Italy" in 2016. Plans for the public square include "classic Italian architectural details and design," including a fountain and paving tiles. It will have space for the stalls of the weekly Mercato farmers’ market and host cultural performances and events.

Plans for the 10,000-square-foot plaza came about primarily as a collaboration between property management company HG Fenton and district management corporation the Little Italy Association, with assistance from city officials and Civic San Diego.

Marco LiMandri, Todd Gloria, Kevin Faulconer

It began in the fall of 2012 with Fenton's acquisition of the old San Diego Reader building at 1703 India Street (at the corner of Date). At that time, according to remarks made by Fenton CEO Michael Neal before the groundbreaking ceremony, Little Italy Association chief executive administrator Marco LiMandri approached him with the idea for a public plaza. As Neal put it, "Marco sat us down and said, 'Welcome to our neighborhood. And by the way, we have a vision for what we want to have occur here, and we'd like you to help us bring that vision to life.'" He then added, "As many of you know, if Marco asks for something…well, that's why we're here today."

Indeed, LiMandri's suggestion bore fruit. In the two years since, Fenton has purchased all the remaining properties on the block and, along with the construction of the plaza, will replace them with new mixed-use buildings featuring underground parking, storefronts, and apartments. Each of these buildings will face the piazza, offering 125 residential rentals and nearly 14,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and restaurant space.

The only current structure remaining will be the one housing the Princess Pub, which holds a lease good until 2020. Another building, the century-old Giacalone house at 529 W. Date Street, will be transported to nearby Washington Elementary School, where it will be converted to a restroom serving the school's public-access park.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer and city-council president Todd Gloria were present at the groundbreaking and also spoke to the small crowd gathered prior to the ceremony, each praising the joint corporate-government partnership. Faulconer said it "shows you what happens when everybody works together with a shared vision." Gloria suggested such collaboration "is the only way we're getting stuff done here in the 21st century."

Planning documents from Civic San Diego indicate up to one million dollars will be allocated to the piazza project by the city, to be drawn from Development Impact Fee Funds. These are fees collected from commercial developers that are intended to fund affordable housing.

To that extent, one of the properties Fenton plans to build on the south side of Date Street will feature 11 apartments designated affordable housing, which Gloria called a "reflection of the fact that Little Italy wants to have people at all income levels in this community."

The "affordable" units will require applicants to be at or under 65 percent of the city's annual median income (AMI). Based on the 2014 AMI, this means the maximum income for applicants would have to stay below $47,255, limiting maximum rent to below $1200.

Before the ceremonial shovels were used to break ground for a staged photo op, LiMandri, whom Gloria called "a force of nature" and was once described by Reader reporter Don Bauder as "politically powerful," took his turn at the podium. He took the opportunity to thank and praise collaborators who contributed to the ambitious revitalization project and reminisced about the neighborhood's 100-year history.

At one point, he pointed at the soon-to-be-demolished Reader building and said, "This building used to be the old Falco's market, and then it became the Wine Cellar in the 1980s, and then it became a black hole for about 20 years." Asked to clarify what he meant by "black hole," LiMandri declined to comment, though context suggests he was referring to the 20 years the Reader spent in the Little Italy property.

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Comments
15

"suggests he was referring to the 20 years the Reader spent in the Little Italy property"

Or maybe it was that the Reader was the only newspaper that gave the world a peek inside his personal black hole (where public money enters and disappears forever):

http://media.sdreader.com/pdf/kessler-sd-follow-up-report.pdf

Dec. 4, 2014

Yes, as reported by Dorian Hargrove, LiMandri has been sucking big money out of San Diego maintenance districts for years. I'm sure he's VERY happy that the Reader offices moved out of Little Italy.

Dec. 5, 2014

It's not just San Diego. Lots of places, starting with Los Angeles - the poorest part of town there, that he, and a few of his SDSU buddies who own some industrial lots, set up as an assessment district, with LiMandri getting paid year after year to "manage."

Dec. 6, 2014

I don't understand the commitment to affordable housing in neighborhoods that don't support a lifestyle congruent with an income under $47,000 a year.

Dec. 4, 2014

So-called affordable rental units are convenient for carless low-income food-service workers. They can walk to work to cook, clean, and serve. It's sort of a feudal workers-in-place concept.

Dec. 5, 2014

Call me cynical but I'm thinking that low income units will go to insiders, not so much fast food workers.

Besides how many fast food jobs would you need to make $46,000 a year?

Dec. 5, 2014

I'm thinking that at least two min-wage workers who also get good tips might comprise a low-income family that could afford these not really low-cost units. The overpriced bars and bistros in LI are probably places where you could hustle some tips. And then maybe work another job or two...it's what people do. Been there. Besides, some City-College-training tech worker jobs don't pay much, even if more than min wage. You can be low-income with jobs such as receptionist, medical office worker, etc.

Dec. 5, 2014

Unless you are on welfare or really low income there is no affordable housing in SD. The reason developers include "affordable housing" in their plans is because it is required if they want government money.

Dec. 5, 2014

Dip your toes into this, for one thing: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/comm_planning/affordablehousing/training/web/lihtc/basics/syndication

"Developers may claim housing tax credits directly, but most sell the tax credits to raise equity capital for their housing project. The developer can sell the tax credits"

Dec. 5, 2014

Good old Toad, count on him to be behind the worst ideas/people in San Diego.

Dec. 5, 2014

Nice, LiMandri. Pettiness is so unattractive.

Dec. 5, 2014

It is upsetting to see the slimy trio of LiMandri, Gloria and Faulconer digging up Reader ground. Let's just see how many "affordable" units actually get built, what the true rents are and who gets to live in them. A black hole indeed.

Dec. 6, 2014

"Politics makes strange bedfellows." --Charles Dudley Warner (September 12, 1829 – October 20, 1900)

Dec. 7, 2014

That rendering looks just like every new development today. Lots of faux detailing, and a riot of bright primary colors. It's an attempt to create some character in what would otherwise be featureless boxes. But leave an old building with some true character in place? Heaven forbid! If anyone wants to see what that sort of architecture does as it ages, go look at Horton Plaza. The colors fade, the stucco develops cracks, and the users/tenants do little to make their outlets really appealing. So it will be with this housing.

Dec. 7, 2014

A reminder of Affordable Housing past, via the now-dissolved Redevelopment Agency (today's actor is Civic San Diego, the equally evil twin): in 2008, for-sale affordable units in La Boheme in North Park were in the news.

The San Diego Housing Commission has info on some of those units currently listed for sale: http://www.sdhc.org/Real-Estate/First-Time-Homebuyers/Resale-Affordable/

The HUD income limits for renter assistance are here (but the units are for sale - the same limits apply?): http://www.sdhc.org/uploadedFiles/Rental_Assistance/Rental_Assistance/2014AMIIncomeLimits.pdf

Dec. 7, 2014

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