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Waterfront park's family atmosphere benefiting bay-side business

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The county’s new waterfront park has revitalized the city’s bayfront. Photo courtesy of County of San Diego.

On Mother's Day, San Diego unveiled its latest community asset in its new county waterfront park along the Embarcadero.

Notably, many families looked to be using it for spending time together while enjoying views of San Diego Bay to the west and the downtown skyline to the south and east.

That was part of the vision for the new park; finally, there would be somewhere in downtown, along the bay front, that could be a major destination for families not necessarily looking to shop, but rather to play, or just relax on expanses of grass or tip toe through the shallow waters of the park's large fountains, which have appeared to be just as popular for kid-splashing as they are for looking at.

But when the families have had their fill of the park's pygmy date palm tree clusters, or its kid-friendly playground, they do go somewhere. And it appears they may be spilling out into the surrounding environs. Or perhaps it's that they're traversing into the park from what surrounds it.

It's probably both, according to local businesses.

South on Harbor Drive but still within walking distance to the park is Hazelwoods on the Bay Deli & Cafe. Kitchen Manager Tony Ambriz has no doubt the park has boosted the American-style cafe's business. It wasn't long after the park opened that Hazelwoods unveiled a new menu for kids, as it became apparent it could sell under the expanded customer base.

"A lot of families," Ambriz commented on the changes he's seen around the neighborhood and in Hazelwoods since Mothers Day. "Definitely. Our business, it grew 50 percent."

That includes business that might have otherwise gone to the pub and restaurant, Elephant & Castle, that recently closed its doors at the corner of Harbor Drive and Ash Street, he said. Nevertheless, Ambriz attributes much of the change in the 16-year-old business' customer base to the park.

"Basically, we're getting all of the customers from the hotel, from the Wyndham. And on weekends, we have a lot of families that go to the park," Ambriz added.

Before the park's opening, he said, Hazelwoods attracted much of its business from tourists. With a park to attract locals on a regular basis now nearby, San Diegans are finding their way into local restaurants, including Hazelwoods, he said. He imagines the benefit will only grow with the recent grand opening of the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan.

It's much the same sentiment at the Wyndham San Diego Bayside, directly across the street from the park.

"There's a lot more activity in this area than there's been in a long time," said Wyndham San Diego Bayside Sales and Marketing Director Jeff Gillick. "We see everything as being very positive — extremely positive — especially for this hotel."

Recently rebranded when Wyndham took over the hotel from its previous owner, Holiday Inn, the hotel views the park as a reason for not only tourists to choose the Embarcadero bayfront as their hotel rest spot, but locals having a staycation, as well.

"It's given the traveler, and the city — even the locals — more opportunity to stay within the city," Gillick said. "If you wanted to go to a major park, for the most part, you'd have to go to Balboa. Now, they (can) pretty much just stay downtown. And that seeps into all the local businesses.

"If you're living downtown, most likely you're not going to stay here, but I think from that park, and the redevelopment — between the USS Midway, the Maritime Museum and all the way through — if people are coming down here, at least now they're probably either staying from the (North County) or they're picnicking next door."

All that equals visibility for surrounding hotels.

Though he said it can be tough to gauge how much of Wyndham's recent success in bookings is due to the hotel rebranding or a combination of that and the park's opening, Gillick says the park gives the hotel more notice. A lot of people that might not have previously chosen downtown or the bayfront are realizing that more is being offered, potentially driving them to travel farther west.

"Because there's a reason to do it," Gillick said. "It's not a parking lot anymore."

According to the county, the park drew an average of 9,000 visitors per week in July and 8,000 per week in August. The average dipped with the seasonal change, however, as the park saw 6,300 visitors per week in September and 4,200 per week in October.

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