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Council approves Horton Plaza project budget, gives authorization to bid

The San Diego City Council gave authorization Tuesday for the $14.2 million Horton Plaza Improvement Project to go to bid, voting unanimously to allow Civic San Diego, the entity that implements development downtown on behalf of the city, to find a contractor in time for construction to start by April.

Project plans include a return of the historically grassy Horton Plaza Park and a neighboring amphitheater featuring retail and community space. By demolishing the former Robinsons-May department store building south of the current Horton Plaza Park, there will be room for the planned plaza and amphitheater. The amphitheater will include an interactive water feature, architectural luminaria, public restrooms, granite paving, three pavilion kiosks for retail space and underground storage.

Horton Plaza Park will be restored to its historic grassy look and a design closer to its original, both of which were changed over time through redevelopment, such as the building of the adjacent Westfield shopping mall. The iconic fountain at its center, designed by Irving Gill, will also be restored.

Civic San Diego approved expenditures for the project in October, and the council’s authorization to bid sets up a possible ceremonial groundbreaking before the end of the year.

The project was originally budgeted in January 2011 for about $9.9 million in hard construction and design costs, but its design underwent an array of changes through 2011 and 2012 as public input shaped how it would look and items once thought unlikely to be included, such as an interactive fountain, were drawn into and accepted into final drawings.

Councilman Todd Gloria said Tuesday, in reference to the budget shortfall, that “budget engineering” would be unacceptable, and that the city must find a way to retain all elements of the design and cover the costs.

“Every element is key to making sure that this is actually what we want it to be, that it’s an activated, active space that citizens will want to go to,” Gloria said. “We really can’t get cheap here.”

Gloria’s redrawn council district includes the project area, and he said he would be involved in every step of the process to make sure ways are found to cover construction budget shortfalls, calling the project area “the heart of our city.”

Councilwoman Marti Emerald reminded the council and public of cash sources that may be able to cover the shortfall, while also asking Civic San Diego planners Brad Richter and Mark Caro if they’re confident bridges could be made between those sources and the project.

Richter, assistant vice president of planning at Civic San Diego, said they are confident of that, and that Civic San Diego will not wait to try to fill the gap.

Among the revenue-raising ideas Emerald noted was the selling of building materials that could have donors' names engraved within them, such as what was done to raise money when the project’s designer, Portland, Ore.-based Walker Macy, designed Pioneer Square in Portland.

“It becomes a source of revenue for you, and also an attraction for the people to come in and be able to point out where they’ve invested,” Emerald said. “I hope you pursue it.”

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Horton Plaza

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324 Horton Plaza
San Diego, CA 92101