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Main Street makeover

Lemon Grove aims for renewal of downtown core

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An image of the new promenade planned for Lemon Grove's downtown area.

After a bumpy start, the city of Lemon Grove has begun construction on the long-awaited Main Street Promenade, a linear park and transit plaza aimed at revitalizing the downtown core.

Located at the northwest corner of Lemon Grove Avenue and Broadway, at the Lemon Grove Depot Trolley Station, the project creates a pedestrian center that will feature public art, a “history walk” timeline of the city, a playground, restrooms, shuffleboard, shade trees and solar panels built to look like trees. The city also hopes to attract seasonal events such as farmers markets and concerts to the space.

"It specifically serves the entire community,” said City Manager Graham Mitchell. “We do not have a central gathering place in the middle of our city, in the downtown area."

The Pioneer Playground, which provides a play area for children while waiting for the trolley, is a nod to the city’s agricultural roots. It will feature a tractor slide, a cow seesaw and seating designed to look like fruit crates, all on a rubberized surface colored to resemble row crops.

Two 30-foot tall windmills will serve as bookends to the 1.2-acre park and plaza, and will help generate electricity to power lights in the park. One will be a traditional-looking windmill, and the other will be a “futuristic looking windspire,” according to the city.

The design is meant to evoke the city’s past, present and future with a focus on agricultural themes and sustainable practices such as stormwater runoff capture, solar energy production and transportation options.

"What we’re trying to communicate with our park is our agricultural roots in Lemon Grove,” Mitchell said. At the turn of the 20th century, sustainability was important — not as a political buzzword, but out of necessity, he said.

"If you didn’t use your resources as a farmer efficiently, you couldn’t grow crops. Part of our culture is a reliance on nature and the resources that we have to be successful. So we wanted to bring that back a little, the notion of not only our agricultural past, but that consciousness to sustainability."

The $5.1 million renovation began last September, with the relocation of businesses and demolition of buildings on Main Street. Work was set to begin on the promenade in January, but was delayed due to a construction rebid. City officials celebrated the groundbreaking on July 19, and site work currently involves environmental contamination work, and removal of sidewalks and streets in preparation for the park.

The Main Street Promenade is expected to be completed by early 2013.

The project design team includes Kimley-Horn & Associates for civil design, and KTU+A for landscape design. Land Forms Construction and Brailsford Public Art form the construction team.

City officials also hope the makeover will spur additional private redevelopment in the downtown core.

“It really was to serve as a public investment in the area, as a catalyst to encourage private development,” Mitchell said.

Already under way is the construction of Citronica One, a mixed-use redevelopment project adjacent to the new transit plaza. The five-story building will include 3,650 square feet of retail space and 56 affordable housing units. Hitzke Development Corp. of San Marcos, which also built the low-income apartment project along Broadway called Citron Court, said construction should be completed by early 2013.

Hitzke Development also has plans for Citronica Two, an 80-unit senior living center, in the same area. Both projects would incorporate sustainable design, such as photovoltaic panels.

The city’s redevelopment agency initiated the promenade project, and attracted $4.5 million in grants. The project received $2.6 million in a state grant, $1.9 million from the San Diego Association of Governments’ Smart Growth Incentive Program and $400,000 in city redevelopment funds.

The Main Street Promenade represents one of the last redevelopment projects for the city, now that California redevelopment agencies have been shuttered.

It’s a sore point for the city manager, who said that aside from the Citronica projects, no other developments in the area are planned.

“That’s what’s the most frustrating to me as city manager, is that we set this up as a catalyst project with the assumption that we would continue to receive redevelopment funding in the future,” Mitchell said.

“We had a very aggressive redevelopment plan, and were looking forward to using our redevelopment tools to help encourage additional private development in area.”

Now that the state has abolished redevelopment agencies, “we’re having to rethink how we’re going to do this,” he said.

-Klam is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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