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El Cajon uses new database to inform developers

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As the city of El Cajon moves ahead with big plans for redevelopment of the city core it has given developers an "easy button," a new database to give the public access to information on every downtown parcel.

The new database offers such information on each property as demographics, economics, environmental data, aerial photos, map views, vacant properties, developable land, historic buildings, photos, public art, roads, freeways, soil types, land use, earthquake and fire risk.

Users may search a parcel using an assessor's parcel number, a property address, or by clicking a parcel on the interactive map.

The various data layers of the map may be turned on or off in any combination and the user may print out the Web site's reports.

David Cooksy, El Cajon director of redevelopment and housing, said while the original purpose of the program was to track brown field (contaminated properties), the plan has evolved to include all of the city's downtown property.

Claire Carpenter, CEO of El Cajon's Community Development Corp. (CDC), said her city is currently about two years into a downtown community plan update expected to take another 18 months to complete.

"We're trying to do something like downtown San Diego's Little Italy in downtown El Cajon," Carpenter said.

Carpenter also said the revised plan will expand El Cajon's core downtown area from about 375 to 500 acres. The additional acreage would bring the core area to about one third of the size of the area governed by the Centre City Development Corp. in downtown San Diego.

In the meantime, the El Cajon CDC has just been accredited as a 2008 member of the National Main Street Program, for meeting the commercial district revitalization performance standard set by the National Trust Main Street Center in Washington, D.C.

In granting the certification, the National Trust evaluated the El Cajon CDC's performance in guiding commercial district revitalization in downtown El Cajon during the past year.

Carpenter said the Main Street Program designation demonstrates that a municipality has a well-run redevelopment plan.

"It improves our reputation and it shows developers that we have a strong program. This has an incredible impact in terms of investment. Investment is like seven times better for Main Street programs than in similar communities that don't participate," Carpenter said.

In conjunction with the community plan update and the Main Street Program, El Cajon is amending its design guidelines, development standards and construction standards.

"We're creating a template for the long-term development of El Cajon," Cooksy said.

While El Cajon continues to redefine itself at the macro level and in cyberspace, the city has an array of projects that will continue to transform the downtown core.

A key portion of this core is El Cajon's Superblock, which contains the El Cajon City Hall and the 1,142-seat East County Performing Arts Center.

Built in 1977, the center, said Carpenter, is in sore need of a makeover and an expansion of an as-yet indeterminate size.

The venue has hosted about 200 performances per year during the past 30 years along with other community events.

Carpenter said what has been missing is a suitable rehearsal space and enough meeting space to keep conventions in the East County, rather than having to ship them to San Diego if they have more than 150 people.

Three firms responded to a request for qualifications in February.

They were locally based Pacific Realty Advisors and Creative Restaurant Group Inc., and Bay Area developer Atman Hospitality Group.

Cooksy said it now appears that Pacific Realty Advisors will get the nod but said any other particulars on the development would be pure speculation.

"This is going to take some period of time," Cooksy said.

There are a number of other projects on El Cajon's plate.

In November 2004, El Cajon residents approved Proposition O, a half-cent sales measure designed to cover public safety projects for police and fire protection, and animal control.

One of the cornerstones of this effort will be the creation of a new public safety center consolidating the city's police services into a 5.7-acre facility within an 8.39-acre redevelopment area bounded by North Magnolia, East Park, Rea and Julian avenues.

The proposed project would include a five-story structure with 120,973 square feet of police services office space, 572 structured parking spaces, 89 surface parking spaces, a pedestrian plaza and a construction staging area.

The first level of the building would be underground, and devoted to parking and a firing range.

The second and third parking levels would be constructed above grade and would wrap around the three-story building.

Uses within the center would consist of police administration, and other administrative services.

A total of 227 staff members have been assigned to the center, with about 170 working at any one time.

Nancy Palm, an assistant to the city manager, said construction drawings for the $74 million project (including soft costs) are about 90 percent complete. KMA Architects of San Diego, and MWL Architects of Phoenix, which specializes in police facilities, are designing the facility.

General contractors are expected to bid on the project by late October.

About a dozen other projects have either recently been completed, are under way or are planned in the near future in an area roughly bounded by Madison, Marshall, Lexington and Mollison avenues.

These projects include the Park Avenue Residential development being constructed at 345 Connecticut Ave. with El Cajon-based Priest Development Corp. the developer.

Planned for 103 homes, the project has about 65 of its 1,765 to 1,865-square-foot row homes sold.

Residential development has been a key part of El Cajon's urban renaissance, but the city's plans have also been impacted by the housing market's collapse.

Cooksy said if possible he would like to take a number of the condominium conversions, renovate them and sell them as affordable units, but doesn't know when the city will have the wherewithal to make such a commitment.

"The problem is the cost of doing the work keeps climbing, and the ability to finance these projects is going in the opposite direction," Cooksy said. "It makes it all but impossible."

The new Geographical Information System database _ http://www.downtownelcajon.com/interactive_parcel_map.shtml

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