Carrier Johnson + CULTURE’s Claudia Escala addresses the packed room about Downtown mixed-use projects.

Mixed-Use Development is a Plus for San Diego

Carrie Rossenfeld Residential & Mixed Use

Contrary to what many San Diego residents may believe, mixed-use development adds value to our lifestyle and is a positive trend in commercial real estate, said speakers at CREW San Diego’s recent lunch program, “Mixed-Use Development Re-Defined.” The program, which SoCal Real Estate attended at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse in San Diego, presented the many successful mixed-use projects that have popped up in the suburban and North County neighborhoods, in addition to Downtown.

Moderator Andrew Malick, director of Malick Infill Development, said the old definition of mixed use as a five-story woodframe apartment building on top of freestanding retail is not the modern definition of the term. Today, mixed-use projects are both vertical and horizontal and can include a wide variety of uses, including, office, retail, residential, and community-oriented uses. One panelist, David McCullough, a principal with McCullough Landscape Architecture Inc., suggested that even light industrial could be a realistic additional use.

Malick stressed the point that mixed use doesn’t have to make life miserable with increased traffic
if planned correctly. “Make sure you have the right type of development and are distributing the properties correctly throughout” the development, he said. For example, by taking steps like putting parking in the base of a mixed-use building that contains both office and multifamily, parking needs are lessened for those who both live and work in the building. “We need to take the environment we’ve built and use it more efficiently.”

Next, Gary Levitt, owner of Seabreeze Properties LLC, presented two North County San Diego mixed-use projects his firm is developing: North City in San Marcos, adjacent to Cal State San Marcos, and Merge 56 in Carmel Valley. North City features student housing, market-rate apartments, retail, and a 25,000-square-foot restaurant, Urge Gastropub. “Suddenly, we had [a sense of] place,” Levitt said of Urge. He spoke of the project “coming together in a very organic sense” based on that part of the development.

“Mixed use is not only vertical; it’s horizontal,” Levitt said, adding that you have to consider what’s across the street from what you’re building. “It’s hard, but it’s worth it.”

Merge 56, a reference to the merging of three major nearby San Diego freeways — the I-5, the I-805, and the 56—takes 40 acres of land approved for retail and apartments and instead creates a neighborhood of single-family homes and apartments with a core of retail and community uses in the middle.

Claudia Escala, principal architect with Carrier Johnson + CULTURE, spoke next about Downtown mixed-use projects her firm has been designing, including Park & Market, whose uniqueness comes from UC San Diego coming to Downtown to take space there. The residential, office, restaurant, and retail uses highlight how a dense environment can work well.

Escala also spoke about Ballpark Village, a project adjacent to Petco Park that’s on the boards. Among other uses, the vertical mixed-use project will feature residential space and connectivity through bridges amd will have amenities like rooftop terraces.

One challenge in designing vertical mixed use is getting people between the different uses, Escala said. She discussed a mall project in Kirkland, Washington, in which her firm turned the upper mall into mixed use, taking inspiration from the nearby lake by opening up an inner corridor leading to the street that brings people to the lake. And she talked about the proposed SDSU Mission Valley mixed-use project to be voted on in November, which is informed by SDCCU Stadium and a Riverpark.

McCullough said mixed use is properly defined as three or more uses with no more than 60 percent of the space devoted to any one use. “But this has become watered down to housing with retail on the ground floor.”

He said that mixed-use developers must approach suburban and urban mixed-use projects differently. “Don’t try to do urban mixed use in a suburban neighborhood and vice versa.” He also mentioned a Downtown mixed-use project called 7th and Market as a unique example of vertical mixed-use, and he pointed out that mixed-use projects should be thought of as 3D, not 2D.

McCullough said open-space elements in mixed-use projects are extremely important to consider. “You need to bind these uses together, and that’s where outdoor space fits in. It’s the catalyst that brings the different uses together.”

It’s also paramount, he said, not to force uses down people’s throats. “Don’t guess what millennials want. Just create beautiful things, and then the amenities don’t matter because people will figure out a way to use it.”