Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

San Diego Provides Super Bowl Lesson; California City's Downtown Has Become a Hot Spot

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

San Diego Provides Super Bowl Lesson; California City's Downtown Has Become a Hot Spot

Article excerpt

Byline: David DeCamp, Times-Union staff writer

SAN DIEGO -- When Jacksonville's Super Bowl leaders wanted a model for their bid to host the 2005 game, they looked to this southern California city's plan.

They found more than a blueprint. They found an entire downtown.

The Super Bowl kicks off today in Qualcomm Stadium, about 25 minutes from where the real action has been the past four days. Visitors have stayed out late in the Gaslamp Quarter, the downtown party spot. Joggers ran along the waterfront parkway looking into San Diego Bay. Shoppers have visited the upper-end Nordstrom department store and Ralph's, a grocery.

And a good number of folks who came and went were city residents.

Downtown San Diego, decorated with antique-style lights and palm trees, sunny skies and the Pacific Ocean, is booming. About 9,000 housing units in apartments, condos and townhouses will be built in the next several years. Large cranes have been piecing together three big hotels. A 46,000-seat baseball stadium is going up southeast of the center of downtown, extending the polish farther.

With so much going on, a large convention center available and a beautiful bay of boats, the National Football League decided to put most of the 2003 Super Bowl's big events downtown -- a plan that Jacksonville will mimic. The decision has given downtown more exposure to help bring in more investment, much like it did in 1988, when San Diego hosted its first of three Super Bowls, officials said.

"I think it's going to be great. It's kind of like New Orleans," said Mick Vorbeck of Sarasota, visiting the Gaslamp Quarter Thursday night with his wife, Lek.

MIRROR IMAGES?

Between 1975 and 2002, nearly $3 billion was spent on downtown projects in San Diego, according to the Centre City Development Corp., a city government agency. Most money came in the past five to seven years. In the next few years, another $3 billion is expected to be spent, including the construction of 68 new residential projects. About 12,000 people live downtown, not including Navy personnel and federal inmates, according to the agency.

"It's just exploded," said 31-year-old Jason McLeod, who said he has a downtown townhouse because he's close to nightlife, the waterfront and centrally located to other parts of the community. And he has grassy areas and walkways for Hank, his 4-month-old black Labrador.

Forgive Jacksonville's leaders if they crave the development like a kid craving candy outside a candy store window. They say a downtown renewal that's similar, though smaller, can happen in Jacksonville. In fact, the city has recently seen the first of 2,000 units in condos and townhouses finished along the St. Johns River. Alltel Stadium's proximity to downtown may end up being better than San Diego's layout in two years.

But it's going to take a decade, maybe two, for Jacksonville to match San Diego's downtown of today, said Jerry Mallot, executive vice president for economic development at the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce. It also will be more difficult because San Diego has more than twice the population of Jacksonville. And Jacksonville is not nearly the tourist destination San Diego is.

However, San Diego used to be a lot like today's Jacksonville, said Donna Alm, vice president of marketing and communication for the Centre City agency. Twenty or 30 years ago, the city came off as a sleepy Navy town with a lot of parking lots but not many residents within 1,500 acres. …

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