Costa Verde shopping center owner has teamed with biotech building developer Alexandria for campus, hotel expansion
By JENNIFER VAN GROVE, THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE
The owner of the Costa Verde shopping center opposite Westfield UTC plans to demolish its 31-year-old strip mall and replace it with something tailored to fit the coming-soon trolley terminus that connects to the property. The revitalization effort, which has been in the works since 2015, aims to merge community retail with a modern, 400,000 square-foot life science campus and a 200-room business hotel.
Thursday, Jacksonville-based Regency Centers received the endorsement of San Diego’s Planning Commission. Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval of a general plan amendment, a community plan amendment and certification of the project’s environmental analysis.
Sandwiched between La Jolla Village Drive and Nobel Drive at 8560 Genesee Ave., the Costa Verde center, built in 1989, currently offers 178,000 square feet of retail on a 13.9-acre plot, and is perhaps best known for its McDonald’s, Chevron and Bristol Farms. With the redo, Regency and its partner Alexandria, a San Diego-based life science real estate developer, are keeping the fast food joint and the gas station, and maintaining the same square footage of retail. But everything is being refashioned in the style of an urban job center, complete with an event plaza, more restaurant space and additional green space.
“We’ve created what we think is a very dynamic, multi-use center that incorporates all the amenities that office workers want, as well as the neighborhood shopping that the neighbors in that area (need),” Regency executive John Murphy said in an interview with the Union-Tribune. “We have a favorable attitude that once (the pandemic is over) this neighborhood will be one of the most dynamic neighborhoods not only in San Diego ... but in the country.”
The lofty goal was reiterated by Alexandria’s Co-Chief Investment Officer, Dan Ryan, who told commissioners that the project is unlike any other on the West Coast given its proximity to talent and transit. The research and development component, which Ryan’s firm will build and operate, will allow for as many as 2,000 science workers and likely draw out-of-town firms already interested in the college-adjacent biotech cluster, he said.
Regency and Alexandria are equal partners on the endeavor and are financing it with their own capital. The project cost was not disclosed. A previous version of the project, prior to Alexandria’s involvement, was pegged at $230 million, meaning the current iteration will be substantially more expensive to build.
One of the project’s top selling points, for the developers and commissioners alike, is its location at the terminus of the future Mid-Coast Trolley line, connecting downtown to University City, as well as its proximity to housing. Approximately 18,000 dwelling units are said to be within a one-mile range of the site. Commuters — presumably students, workers and shoppers — will be able to access the center from a station platform located between the two Alexandria office buildings fronting Genesee. The same stop also connects to Westfield UTC on the east.
“This is one of the best projects I’ve seen. It’s got everything going for it,” Commissioner Douglas Austin said. “It’s in a place where you’re connecting jobs, you’re connecting transit, you’re connecting housing; it’s got it all going on.”
The other six commissioners shared similar enthusiasm for the project, citing a noted improvement over the existing center. Public speakers were mostly in favor, although Christina Caro, a lawyer representing a coalition of labor organizations — San Diegans for Sustainable Economic and Equitable Development (SD SEED) — voiced opposition to the project’s noise, air quality and transportation impacts. For instance, the environmental impact report understates employee car trips and overstates existing retail trips, she said.
Per the city’s calculations in the final environmental analysis, the project is expected to generate 4,981 daily car trips, on average, with significant impacts at several intersections. With the Planning Commission’s approval, the matter will move on to City Council for final approval next month. Regency Centers hopes to start demolition work in June and complete a bulk of the project ahead of the 2023 holiday season.
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