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Heritage Park gets new lease on life, expansion

A San Diego hotel company is taking over the Heritage Park leasehold Wednesday, and will spend about $13 million in replica buildings and upgrades to the seven existing 1880s and 1890s-vintage Victorians moved to the Old Town site.

As part of an agreement granted by the Board of Supervisors last week, Fred Grand, president of Pacific Hospitality Group of San Diego will build four new Victorian-style structures at the park.

Grand, the operator of the nearby Hacienda Hotel down the hill from the Heritage Park, obtained the 581/2-year ground lease with two additional 10-year options valued at $33.5 million.

The four new buildings will total 63 rooms, which together with the seven existing structures, will total 84 guestrooms.

Parts of the existing buildings will be for retail usage.

Two of the existing buildings had been combined into the 12-room Heritage Park Inn, whose lease was lost by Charles Helsper following a contract dispute in September of last year after having run the inn for about 16 years.

Nine of the rooms were in the Christian House and three of the rooms were in the Bushyhead House. With some upgrades, these buildings will be retained for lodging.

The other properties moved to Heritage Park since the 8.5-acre park was begun in the early 1970s are the Sherman-Gilbert House, the McConaughy House, the Burton House, the Senlis Cottage and Temple Beth.

Grand, who has worked closely with Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) on the plans for both the existing and the new structures, said the Temple Beth building will remain.

The four new buildings' design has yet to be determined, but Grand has hired Edinger Architects of San Diego.

Edinger, which has designed residences in San Diego, Monterey and Palm Desert, is handling both the upgrade of the existing buildings, and the new buildings.

"These existing buildings need a lot of work," Grand said.

While an exact design of the new buildings, whose sites are being used as open and/or park space, have yet to be determined, Grand, Edinger and SOHO have an idea of what would be appropriate for the site.

The buildings' exact square footage will depend on the chosen styles.

Two of the buildings would be in a so-called Second Empire style.

Although there are variations in this style that was common in the late Victorian era, they don't have the round towers that are visible in the Christian House.

They have square towers if they have towers at all and dormers are typical. Another feature of these buildings is the mansard roof.

Named for 17th century French architect Francois Mansart, the roof structures -- with their steep, double-sloped designs -- actually date back as far as the Italian and French Renaissance.

Another of the re-created homes would be in a type of Gothic-revival style.

While this building would look nothing like a Gothic church, it would have a relatively narrow front and steep roofline to emphasize its height.

The last building to be built on the vacant potion of hillside property will be constructed in an Italianate style.

The Italianate homes come in a wide variety, but typically are rectangular, have gently sloping rather than steep roofs and often have a column-covered entryway that is large enough to have a sizable porch that may go much of the way around a building.

Hunsaker & Associates, which has handled engineering work for a major expansion of the La Costa Resort & Spa, and the EastLake Business Park in Chula Vista, is currently handling the engineering work on the Heritage Park job.

When asked about having buildings at Heritage Park that for the first time won't be authentic, Grand noted that Colonial Williamsburg is a total re-creation, but still imparts an accurate sense of history.

"We're trying to make this as seamless as possible," Grand said "We want these to be as nice as the original buildings."

All architectural designs will be created with input from the local community and reviewed and approved by the City of San Diego.

Although San Diego County has jurisdiction over Heritage Park, it has decided to defer the entitlement process to the City of San Diego.

As for the format of the lodging, Grand said while he is using the bed and breakfast as his model, he intends to be flexible enough to amend this vision if the market dictates.

Grand, who has been hoping to realize this vision for the past five years, said he hopes to get his entitlements approved about a year from now.

He said he believes the new construction and upgrades would take about two years to complete.

Grand would probably have a difficult time if he tried to finance the project today, he believes. However, if it is far enough in the future, his lenders will see the promise of high occupancies in one of the most popular state parks in California.

"A percentage of the sales will be paid in rent," Grand said adding that the formulas are still being worked out.

It also doesn't hurt, said Grand that Fiesta de Reyes, a restaurant and shop venue being redeveloped on what was formerly the Bazaar del Mundo property at the bottom of the hill, is coming into its own.

"Chuck Ross (the new operator) is doing a much better job than Delaware North," Grand said. "He's getting the local customers to return."

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