Whether about his beloved Bankers Hill, multiple Hard Rock Hotels or a redesign of the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, Graham Downes spoke passionately about his endeavors.
The architect and developer who owned Graham Downes Architecture and Blokhaus Development planned projects from Ghana to Bankers Hill until his death this past weekend.
In the summer of 2012, partnerships controlled by Downes acquired three parcels in Bankers Hill comprising the locations of the Britt Scripps Inn, the Mandarin House and the 13-unit Evergreen (now MapleHaus) Apartments for a total of $5 million.
Downes said the properties were to be the cornerstone of a major mixed-use development he said would transform Bankers Hill.
“To me, the revitalization of Bankers Hill is much more than a business opportunity,” said Downes in a statement. “This neighborhood has fascinated me since I landed in San Diego more than 20 years ago. I now call it home, having restored my 101-year-old historic house here seven years ago. Besides the assets of a very central location and aligning the west edge of Balboa Park, this midtown district stocks a fine collection of mid-century, '60s and '70s commercial buildings that epitomize some of the best work of San Diego’s pioneering modern architects. I believe that an infusion of new creativity in the adaptive re-use and redevelopment of these structures will revitalize the area and make it once again one of the most desirable, inspirational and prestigious city villages.”
Two of these properties, the apartment complex, and the Mandarin House, have since been sold by Downes. The Mandarin House transaction was completed April 2.
Downes also wanted to make a statement with BarrioHaus at 1600 National Ave. in Barrio Logan. The project, completed in 2005, redeveloped what had been an industrial building into offices for Downes’ architectural and development firm, as well as retail and restaurant space.
"BarrioHaus is the first development of its kind in Barrio Logan," Downes said. "Our goal is to position this project as a catalyst for redevelopment in this neighborhood, which has an ideal location between Interstate 5 and the San Diego harbor and is very close to the new ballpark and [then] proposed main library. Barrio Logan is on track to absorb the next major wave of urban infill development and redevelopment in San Diego."
Downes said it was also a special thrill when he was given the opportunity to redesign the famed Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
“It is an honor to oversee a project of this magnitude and significance in Las Vegas. “We are excited to bring the glitz and glamour of the iconic '60s era back to The Riviera Hotel, ” Downes said.
An estimated $20 million renovation, the hotel features multiple guest-room towers that house 2,100 rooms and suites with a 270,000-square-foot podium of gaming, restaurants, bars, retail and a conference facility.
“We are paying homage to the glory days of the hotel, as dramatized in the movie, 'Casino' with Robert De Niro, which was filmed on the premises. Our mission is to restore the soul of this illustrious Las Vegas landmark, respecting its spirit and legacy,” Downes said. “The vibrant redesign will bring The Rivera back to life, honoring its storied past while injecting the right mix of contemporary style that will carry it enduringly into the future.”
Hard Rock Hotels’ interior designs here in San Diego; Las Vegas; and in Nueva Vallarta, Mexico also kept Downes busy over the years.
The Hard Rock in Nuevo Vallarta was Downes' newest association with the brand.
“With the [348-room] Hard Rock Hotel Nuevo Vallarta, we’re focused on creating a design that captures the young and hip vibe of the brand while also catering to families …” Downes said.
During an interview with The Daily Transcript earlier this year, Downes said it was his life-long desire to create a sense of place wherever the developments happened to be located.
“Quality of life is everything for me,” said Downes. “I care about where the most people live -- where something good has the highest opportunity for a resonant impact, like a ripple effect. You make one good move in an urban context in a highly built up area and it resonates to affect a lot of people’s lives.”