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Horton Plaza sees more delays; completion aimed for December

The restoration and expansive redevelopment of Horton Plaza won’t be completed in time for the 105th anniversary in October of both its iconic fountain’s unveiling and the grand opening of the historic U.S. Grant Hotel across the street ­-- as was planned just a few months ago -- but officials still hope to celebrate its public re-opening by sometime in December.

Unexpected and heavy summer rains, as well as some slower-than-expected progress in making public utility connections, have been sources of delays that will make the Oct. 15 targeted completion impossible to meet, according to Civic San Diego, the project’s facilitating agency.

The rain that hit San Diego with force through several days in July was a principle cause, said Daniel Kay, Civic San Diego senior project manager.

“That rain event was pretty bad for us,” Kay said. “We had the excavation for the (new) interactive fountain ready to go. That rain event … ended up proving to be quite a bit of a delay for us on constructing that interactive fountain. It filled up with, like, 3 feet of water.”

Summer rains flooded areas of the amphitheater under construction in Civic San Diego's restoration and expansion of Horton Plaza, becoming the main source of recent project delays. Civic San Diego now plans a December completion. Photo courtesy of Civic San Diego

Despite the latest delays, much of the site has been poured with its concrete sub slab. The amphitheater stairs have largely been formed, especially at the portions around the south and northeast plaza pavilions. Sub slabs for the stairs and steps along Fourth Avenue have also been poured. The three planned pavilions in the expansion area are about 80 percent complete, Kay said, and the park restoration is about 80 percent complete, and the right-of-way around the northern side of the park is about 90 percent done.

Civic San Diego expects to establish power at the plaza by the end of October, putting project crews on a hopeful pace for a grand opening before the end of the year.

"We actually had a meeting today," Kay said in mid-August. "We don't have an exact day, but we're shooting for mid-December right now."

Another challenge encountered by the project's developers included the February longshoremen strike that brought shipping operations to a halt at the state's ports, causing some difficulty in construction crews at the plaza receiving ordered stone. Kay said the stone sat at ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles, but that orders have progressively been coming in since the strike's end. The strike, he said, resulted in some additional costs and additional delays for Civic San Diego and the project's general contractor, Echo Pacific Construction.

Progress has reportedly been smooth, however, on the preparation of the luminaries that will light the plaza at night. Fabricated by El Cajon-based California Sheet Metal, the eight perforated-aluminum luminaries are completely built, and are planned to be delivered to the plaza on flatbeds and lifted by crane into their positions around the plaza. They will "spiral out of the ground," Kay added, and will look like twisting spires standing around 30 feet in height, with assorted colors of LEDs lighting them from the inside in both an upward and downward direction. During the day, its attraction will be brushed aluminum finishes, Kay said.

On the north side of the nearly 40,000-square-foot project site, and in the middle of the historic Horton Plaza Park, sits the iconic fountain designed by Irving Gill which opened to the public in 1910. It's being restored along with the remainder of the surrounding park, which will retain its historic perimeter of palm trees but be returned to a grassy park, as it was before redevelopment turned it to a shrub-filled area.

Kay said the Gill fountain's basin has been re-poured using a tan-colored concrete, and that the underlayment for the four walkways leading to the fountain from the park's edges — which will divide the park into four equal rectangular quadrants — was expected to be poured around Aug. 15.

"They won't be paved with the finished tile pavers, but the concrete sub slab will be put in place," Kay said.

Civic San Diego worked with tile manufacturers to replicate closely the style and color of the tiles seen in that part of the plaza around a century ago. The tiles there will be square and of a terracotta-like appearance.

The laying of granite tiles in the surrounding right-of-way, along Broadway Circle, Broadway and Fourth Avenue, just began Aug. 12, and will be near completion by the end of August, Civic San Diego said. Installation of the granite stone pavers to be used throughout the expanded plaza site began there, Kay said, initiating a process that will be completed progressively from that north end of the plaza to the south end.

"Once they start, they basically won't stop," Kay said. "In parallel with that, they'll also be laying the stone on the amphitheater steps. That's a little more intricate work. There has to be much more precise measurements on installing the stone on the amphitheater."

Two installation crews will be assigned to the step work to speed up the more intricate process, he said.

The next construction milestone will be the expected completion of the plaza's three food and beverage pavilions by October, which will allow tenants to begin planning their move-ins. Kay said in mid-August that because the tenant leases hadn't been approved yet, a tenant list couldn't be released.

An approval of the leases is expected in September. Civic San Diego said it plans to finish the project under the allowed combination of the $14.5 million budget and the 10 percent budget contingency.

"What we had approval for from the [redevelopment successor agency] oversight board and the [California] Department of Finance is a $14.5 million bid, plus another 10 percent for any change orders that may occur," Kay said. "It's basically around almost $16 million, but we plan to be under that."

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