Tommy Thompson has been cutting hair in downtown San Diego for the past 45 years. The genteel 73-year old is the sole barber at Tommy's Barber Shop on Broadway between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, a tiny, 100-square-foot anachronism, with its red vinyl and chrome chairs, barber's pole, and black-and-white checkered floor. Thompson charges $12 for a haircut and pays $635 a month in rent for a space where five is a crowd. If he were to move a block or so down the street, closer to Horton Plaza, his rent would jump at least 30 percent.
Thompson's neighbors are a hodgepodge of dining and retail oddities grouped together with no coherent organization. The city's vast redevelopment facelift ends around the 700 block of Broadway and after that, the sidewalks are a little more littered, hundreds of square feet of retail space lies vacant, and of the shops and restaurants that remain in business, one has to doubt whether any of them turn much of a profit.
Upper, or East, Broadway's most interesting structure-the boarded up, likely uninhabitable Investigative News Network building-which at one time housed a collaborative of freelance investigative journalists-is interesting only because it's rather eerie.
Thompson, whose shop used to be located across the street where a parking lot now sits, says he can't remember exactly when east Broadway turned so shabby. He thinks it was sometime in the 1980s.
Real estate guru Bud Fischer, who plans to build a 394-unit apartment complex at 9th and Broadway, the current location of, not surprisingly, another parking lot, as well as some retail shops, says he can't recall when Broadway wasn't a mess. In a statement released by the Housing Commission, which helped Fischer secure a $29.5 million bond to fund the development, he describes Broadway as San Diego's at-one-time-but-no-longer “parade street.”
Photographs from the San Diego Historical Society's archive show Broadway of the 'teens, '20s and '30s as a thriving metropolitan hub. Streetcars run in both directions, sidewalks are filled with people and buildings have a look of grandeur. Old excerpts from the San Diego Union show that Broadway was, indeed, a parade street, where the 1954 Pacific Coast League-champion Padres were honored and where, as one account of the 1915 California-Panama Exposition reads: “On April Fools' Day, a boy rode an ostrich... girls from ‘Paris After Midnight' waved from floats, and camels and horses from the Animal Show added their exotic colors to a parade down Broadway.”
Fischer says that a key motivation for “Broadway Square”-as the development's been dubbed-is to try to lift the area out of blight. An initial sketch of the complex shows an attractive 12-story, red-and-cream-color building with a paned-glass ground floor exterior.
Fischer, whose success with downtown real estate has provided a foundation for several affordable housing projects, has promised to set aside 74 percent of the units for folks earning 80 percent or less of the area median income (AMI). Fifty-five studio apartments will rent for $507 a month; another 188 studios will rent for $822 a month. The remaining 25 studios will be priced at market rate, or $875. A number of one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments will rent for $140 to $630 below market rate. The project is categorized by the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC)-which loaned Fischer $6 million for the development-as “workforce housing,” intended to fill housing needs for downtown's growing service sector, especially hospitality workers.
According to CCDC, the city agency tasked with overseeing downtown redevelopment, four new residential buildings, Fischer's included, will add 1,500 to 2,000 new residents to the six-block stretch of Broadway between Ninth Avenue and 15th Street.
CCDC redevelopment project manager Jeff Zinner said two of the developments, the massive, mixed-use residential/office/retail “Smart Corner” complex, which will take the place of the Investigate News Network building on the north side of 11th Street and Broadway, and Pointe of View, a 450-unit structure planned for just across the street, fall under the city's inclusionary housing ordinance, which requires developers to either make 10 percent of the units affordable, or pay an in-lieu-of fee to the city. The fourth development, the Union Square condos between 14th and 15th streets, with list prices of $200,000 to $400,000-modest compared to downtown condo prices-currently has a waiting list.
Downtown planning, because it falls in a redevelopment area, is orchestrated by CCDC. Other communities have in place planning area committees (PACs) comprising residents of that particular area. A PAC is a government-recognized entity that informs city planners about what's best for the community in terms of planning and development. While CCDC takes input from a citizen's advisory committee, ultimately the Board of Directors is in charge, prompting some critics to argue that CCDC's decisions are developer-, rather than community-driven.
Six blocks and four major residential developments no doubt raise issues about density and attendant quality-of-life issues for Broadway's current and future tenants. That portion of downtown right now lacks retail establishments such as a grocery store, pharmacy, bank and other services necessary for a thriving community. However, large projects such as Smart Corner can act as catalysts, drawing other developers and businesses into an area. And, CCDC's Zinner said adding neighborhood amenities to that area is currently being discussed as CCDC updates its Downtown Community Plan. The plan in place now was adopted in 1992. CCDC estimates a new plan will be complete by summer 2004.
Ann Fathy, a downtown resident and a member of CCDC's citizen's advisory committee, said CCDC has been receptive to community input and that the citizen's committee has set priorities for the East Village area, including a park and some sort of free or low-cost shuttle system.
As for Thompson, so far his shop doesn't sit in the path of any planned developments. But, as his surroundings improve, that $635 a month rent he pays will inevitably go up. Under state redevelopment law, if a developer were to focus his attention on the east side of Broadway's 800 block, Thompson's three-year lease would be, as he puts it, “as good as last week's newspaper.”
He says he understands the city's need to rehab its run-down parts-he compares it to an old shoe that needs a new sole-but, ultimately, he said, “It's no good for the little guy.”