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National City set on reinvention

San Diego County's second oldest city, National City, continues its quest to forge a new identity while preserving its unique history. Today, Victorian treasures like Granger Music Hall coexist with modern landmarks like mega-car dealership the Mile of Cars, one of the city's biggest and most successful enterprises.

Other large local employers include The Corky McMillin Cos. and Paradise Valley Hospital. Yacht manufacturer Knight & Carver, which has more than 170 employees, is among the city's waterfront-based commercial and industrial businesses. And downtown National City is home to a variety of retail and commercial businesses, many of which are family-owned.

In 2003, Mayor Nick Inzunza introduced 10 key goals designed to revitalize the city and stimulate economic growth. They include an estimated $500 million in commercial, residential, civic and cultural redevelopment projects that are either under construction or in the planning pipeline.

The city recently checked one major goal off the list when it celebrated the grand opening of the South County Regional Education Center in November of 2004. Located on National City Boulevard, the $22 million educational complex offers advanced telecommunications resources, including state-of-the-art classrooms and communication labs equipped with videoconferencing, Webcasting and Internet connectivity.

Another completed goal was the opening of Wal-Mart. Meanwhile, construction on other projects - including a new library and fire station - continues, while plans to build several affordable housing developments are also progressing.

Headway is being made on another significant project, Filipino Village. Working together, the city and local businesses are striving to beautify and promote economic growth along the Plaza Boulevard Corridor, while spotlighting the area's rich Filipino culture.

"Twenty percent of National City residents are Filipino," said Robert Paz, deputy director of economic development for National City. "We have the largest Filipino population in the U.S. outside of the Philippines, and the largest Asian population in San Diego. We want to take advantage of this special asset and create a destination point that the city and visitors can embrace."

In August of 2004, nearly 100 downtown business and property owners banded together to create a Property Business Improvement District. The non-profit organization was formed with the help of New City America, a consulting firm that has developed more than 30 such districts in California.

These districts have helped communities like San Diego's Little Italy preserve and enhance their unique character while promoting business growth. National City's Mile of Cars also has an improvement district, and businesses in the Plaza Boulevard Corridor are exploring the possibility of forming their own district as well.

Like members of other improvement districts, the National City business and property owners pay fees to fund a variety of services, such as street sweeping and cleanup, beautification programs, and developing new signage to create a distinct image for the district.

"There are a lot more mixed-use properties being built in the area, and more residents," said Patti Finnegan, owner of Niederfrank's Ice Cream and a fan of the improvement district. "With the city's help, we want to create a nice little community down here with its own identity."

Other National City businesses received a boost from last spring's expansion of the state-designed South Bay Enterprise Zone. To foster business growth, the program provides new and existing companies within the zone to leverage numerous state tax advantages. The expanded South Bay Enterprise Zone consists of 7,094 acres of commercial and industrial land, including 84-acres in National City. Companies in the city that now qualify for zone incentives include Knight & Carver, car importer PASHA and custom signage and sales office interior designer Motivational Systems Inc. In total, the three companies will invest approximately $6 million into their businesses and create 90 new jobs.

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