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North County Development Picking Up Steam

By Ray Huard

San Diego Business Journal

January 29, 2024

NORTH SAN DIEGO COUNTY – San Marcos’ once-renown Old California Restaurant Row is set to be resurrected in 2024 by Lennar, but the new version will include housing and a public park.

To be built on a 10.5-acre site on the north side of San Marcos Boulevard between S. Las Posas Road and Via Vera Cruz, the project would have 202 residential units, 10,400 square feet of commercial space, and a 1.1-acre-neighborhood park.

“I’m really excited about it,” San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones said in a January interview. “It’s going to be so amazing for the community.” The project was unanimously approved by the City Council in December.

Lennar declined requests for interviews to discuss the project, but Division President Ryan Green said at the December council meeting that the company’s goal is to recreate the fun feeling of the original.

“This community really celebrates the lifestyle and the nostalgia of what Old California Restaurant Row was and elevates it to the next level,” Ryan told the council. The project also would have dog parks for large and small dogs and a network of walkways.

In all, the new Restaurant Row will have 20 buildings. What Lennar has called a green court around the public park will have 57 apartments in 10 buildings, a motor court on the interior of the site will have 120 units in six buildings, and a mixed-use portion of the project along the periphery would have 25 residences in four buildings and three commercial nodes that are planned for restaurants.

The three-story mixed-use buildings would have apartments with balconies or front porches. Jones said that she wanted to ensure that the new Restaurant Row preserved elements of its predecessor.

“It was really the place to eat in North County. It was bustling,” Jones said. “Over the years, it’s really deteriorated. It’s really been sad to watch.”

The design of the buildings includes brick veneer inspired by the look of Old California Row. The project also will reuse timbers from buildings that were on the site, using some to build a gateway, and making others available to the public.

“They are salvaging whatever they do not use, and they are offering it to the community to use free, maybe in your home or your landscaping or something like that,” Jones said.

The project also will include street improvements to San Marcos Boulevard, including an access lane for vehicles entering the project.

Other than bringing back a coffee shop that was part of the original restaurant row, Ryan told the council in December that Lennar has yet to determine what businesses will fill the commercial space. Existing restaurants adjacent to the new project along Via Cruz are Buffalo Wild Wings, Cocina Del Charro, and Fish House Vera Cruz.

Old California Restaurant Row was developed in 1978 by Los Angeles developer Jim Eubank and his wife, Vera, according to the San Marcos Historical Society. The Eubanks had used the site for a small farm stand, Rancho Mercado built in 1972.

The idea was to build an international restaurant complex offering a variety of cuisines.

Eubank brought in river rock from the Pala Indian Reservation, 100-year-old timber from vintage buildings and handmade artistic tiles from Mexico. The first two buildings had stucco exteriors, red clay tile roofs, parapet walls, wooden beams, stone, clay bricks and wood windows.

A Powerhouse

Emergence of a new Restaurant Row is but one of several projects that stand to make 2024 a year of considerable growth in North County, given a difficult financing environment because of high interest rates.

“Every expectation is that 2024 is looking like it will be a solid, but not spectacular year,” said Erik Bruvold, chief executive officer of the San Diego North Economic Development Council.

In addition to Restaurant Row, Lab Holding, based in Orange County, is planning a 5.03-acre mixed-used development in San Marcos on the southwest corner of Grand Avenue and Linda Vista Drive near Restaurant Row. The project would have 102 condominium units and 63,641 square feet of commercial space.

“Getting the Lab developers was a huge win for us,” said Tess Sangster, San Marcos Community and Economic Development director. “They are a creative and visionary developer.”

A similar development by the company in Costa Mesa, The Lab Anti-Mall, has become a regional attraction and Sangster said that the hope is that it will be the same for North County.

“We’re really excited about what that is going to do for our community,” Sangster said.

Also coming in San Marcos, Seabreeze Properties, developers of San Marcos’s new downtown dubbed “North City”, is building a 12-story apartment building that will include 19,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, due for completion in the fourth quarter of 2025.

The structure will be the tallest building in North County, and a second similar tower is planned. “It’s really exciting seeing more density along the (Route) 78 corridor,” Sangster said. “Twelve stories along the 78 corridor has never been done before.”

Taken with the August 2023 completion of Kaiser Permanente’s $403.3-million San Marcos Medical Center, Jones said that the new development is redefining the once sleepy, pastoral city. “We really have evolved into a powerhouse in North County,” Jones said.

Biotech Expansion and Entertainment

In Oceanside, construction of the $85 million Frontwave Arena soccer venue is moving toward finishing toward the end of the year as the new home for the San Diego Soccers and Genentech is building a $280 million manufacturing plant as part of $450 million of improvements that the biotech firm is making in Oceanside.

With the addition of the new building, Genentech will have seven buildings totaling 575,000 square feet on its 60-acre Oceanside campus.

Frontwave Arena will be “the only venue of its kind in North County,” said Michele Geller, Oceanside economic development manager.The 170,000-square-foot arena will have a seating capacity of 7,500 and a 15,000-square-foot outdoor plaza with room for 1,500 people.

“It’s just going to be a destination in North County, and it will draw people from Orange County and from San Diego,” Geller said. “It’s definitely been the vision to have something like this in Oceanside. To see it happening is really exciting.”

Construction is also proceeding in Oceanside with the more than $200 million OceanKamp wave park that will include a surfing lagoon, a 300-room hotel, and 667 homes on a 92-acre site that was once the Valley Drive-In theater.

Bruvold of the Economic Development Council said that the odds are that development will pick up in North County this year. “The signs are relatively optimistic,” Bruvold said. “Generally speaking, I think 2024 will shape up to be modestly better than 2023.”

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