San Diego’s latest megaproject, Makers Quarter, is downtown redevelopment with a twist. Like developers elsewhere, the team of Lankford & Associates, Hensel Phelps, and HP Investors hopes to lure young professionals to the city’s East Village with a dense mix of residential, retail, and creative/tech office space. But while the group has sketched out a retail strategy as well as a block-by-block program with designers like Gensler, Skyport Studio, BNIM, JWDA, and Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects, they are relying on an experiment in bottom-up urban planning to fill in the gaps. That experiment is SILO, a 25,000-square-foot temporary event space on a former dirt auto-repair lot.
“In the past there were a lot of efforts by our Redevelopment Agency to stitch together the community’s voice, but through more traditional means,” said Stacey Pennington, lead planner for Makers Quarter. “What’s different here is that we’re utilizing some of the raw space to—in a very experiential and immersive way—understand what the community likes.”
SILO launched last September, when Makers Quarter teamed up with the San Diego Film Festival for a debut of films. Since then, the space—a fenced-in, dirt-floored rectangular lot punctuated by a silo—has hosted a variety of events, including plays and art shows, and the team has commissioned several murals and street art installations. “Part of the SILO experiment is to activate the neighborhood, which before was just an on/off ramp to the freeway,” explained Pennington, who says that more than 10,000 people have participated in activities over the past year.
The Makers Quarter team will draw on SILO’s successes to fine-tune their master plan and program a permanent public plaza. “The other layers, in terms of what we’ve learned, will intersect on each block as we transition into full development,” said Pennington.
As for the rest of the neighborhood, which the team will develop over the next 5-13 years at an estimated cost of $900 million, the aesthetic will draw on the area’s history as a warehouse district. Renderings show mid- and high-rise mixed-use buildings clad in brick, stone, and metal, with an emphasis on indoor-outdoor spaces, including terraces and sidewalk seating areas.
The developers plan to preserve the Coliseum boxing club as an anchor, and will retain historic facades when possible. “In terms of new build, we want to express that texture, character, and honesty in a very modern and functional way,” said Pennington. “There’s an absolute interest in authentic story lines. Instead of just interspersing random development, it’s coming to life in different ways on each block.”
Downtown San Diego’s demographic has evolved significantly in recent years, said Pennington, tilting toward the young and well educated. “It’s not just about building attractive places to work and live,” said Pennington, “but to really create an environment where you get the spontaneity, the ideas, and the collaboration that come from just being located in the same area. I think that’s something many cities got right 100 years ago—we’re trying to reinvent the wheel.”