Mercado del Barrio

Guest Column – January 2019: Creating Community

Carrie Rossenfeld Guest Column

From SoCal Real Estate’s January 2019 issue:

By Kevin McCook, VP of acquisitions and development, Shea Properties in San Diego

Kevin McCook | Images courtesy a representative of Shea Properties

To understand the success of the Mercado del Barrio mixed-use development in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood, simply look to the murals.

The famous murals of Barrio Logan are monuments to the community’s cultural identity. Painted in vivid colors on enormous bridge pylons, these murals depict Hispanic political and pop-culture leaders and commemorate the neighborhood’s successful ’70s effort to reclaim a public space that had been slated to become a police substation.

Instead of the substation, the community built Chicano Park, a 7.4-acre community space established around the public murals, and designated it a national historic landmark in 2016. The park is an impressive feat of community cohesion, and the murals remain a testament to the neighborhood’s energy and creativity.

As a developer seeking to revitalize this community, we saw something else in these murals: a blueprint. Following the community’s self-expressions of reliance and hope, we designed the mixed-use center Mercado del Barrio to honor the community’s past and to support its dreams of the future.

Today, the Mercado del Barrio is 96 percent leased and brimming with activity. The mixed-use space has become such a vital part of life for the community that it feels as though it has always been here.

That’s the way property development should work, with developers and community members creating a shared vision. Since opening in 2013, the once-vacant property attracts residents and tourists alike. Located next to Chicano Park, Mercado del Barrio’s restaurants, businesses, public art pieces, colorful murals and open plazas have helped revitalize and preserve Barrio Logan’s cultural legacy.

Anchored by Northgate Market, the center has exceeded the community’s hopes. The market alone employs more than 125 people from the community, the 92-unit Estrella del Mercado apartments are fully leased, and a robust calendar of community events keep the public plaza buzzing with activity.

The community had long asked for a supermarket, restaurants, and places to hang out. Mercado del Barrio has answered that call on the community’s terms — retaining the flavor and identity of the Hispanic community that built this historic area.

As a result, Mercado del Barrio has attracted a mix of incredible tenants, like Mariscos el Pulpo, Iron Fist Brewery, and, more recently, Attitude Brewing Company, Maggie’s Café, and Dough Nation. Barrio Logan has even been recognized by Zagat as a destination for quality, authentic local food that attracts people from all over the region.

After years of economic decline, this resurgence of energy and recognition is a source of pride. It is also a source of progress: the emergence of great food, local art, and rich history is drawing visitors to Barrio Logan and contributing to a growing local economy.

This success is electrifying and validating. As a developer, our ultimate goal is to see our centers thrive. But they will only thrive if they reflect the people who will live, work, shop, and play in the centers we build.

Promoting an open dialogue with the community, especially at the outset of a project, is vital to any successful development strategy. Heavy-handed development can build up an area but kill its soul.

From the beginning, we met with neighborhood associations, property owners, and retailers. We listened to concerns about traffic, graffiti, and the lack of affordable housing. We created plans in concert with the community, fine-tuning it with residents’ input and our team’s creative energy.

The result is a development that not only meets the community’s current needs but anticipates its future ones.

In particular, the success of Mercado del Barrio’s public plaza is especially gratifying, as it was a key feature that local residents identified as a need. Walking among the revelers and dancers at the La Vuela Barrio Logan Father’s Day Cruise or listening to elected officials speak to the community from the plaza, it’s been incredible to see the center being used as we had originally envisioned.

That’s what cultural preservation is all about. If we hadn’t listened to the community and worked in partnership with them, those vibrant murals would serve as a daily reminder of what we did wrong — rather than as a celebration of what we’ve honored and done right.

And we’ve done a lot right.