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San Diego Gives Convoy District Special Pan-Asian designation. Will it be the Next Little Italy?

San Diego gave Kearny Mesa’s Convoy District a special designation this week that could help the already popular Asian dining destination become a success story comparable to Little Italy.

The City Council unanimously voted to officially name the area the “Convoy Pan Asian Cultural and Business Innovation District,” which will allow an arch over Convoy Street and freeway signs announcing the area to motorists.

The designation, while partly symbolic, is being called a milestone by boosters of the area’s diverse collection of restaurants, supermarkets, entertainment venues, medical offices, churches, ethnic media outlets and nonprofits.

"This designation will allow the Convoy District to brand itself as a cultural and business district, which will help further transform the greater Convoy area into a vibrant cultural center, dining destination and innovative economic hub,” said Councilman Chris Cate, whose district includes Kearny Mesa.

The move comes just before the council is scheduled to approve a new growth blueprint for Kearny Mesa that calls for a sharp increase in housing and the revamping of the large neighborhood to be more pedestrian-friendly.

The blueprint, which describes the Convoy District as the cultural heart of San Diego’s 500,000-member Asian & Pacific Islander community, calls for wider sidewalks and the creation of public gathering spaces that the area now lacks. Those changes could enhance the appeal of the Convoy District, similar to how plazas and paseos were added to Little Italy during that neighborhood’s rise in recent years to become the region’s premier dining destination.

The district goes beyond Convoy Street to include parts of Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Mercury Street and Balboa Avenue. It is east of Interstate 805, west of state Route 163 and south of state Route 52.

Leaders of the Convoy District, which established the nonprofit Convoy District Partnership in 2014, said Tuesday’s designation is one more key step forward.

“It matters, especially to the community,” said Lauren Garces, the district’s special events director. “Every little bit helps to let people know about our district.”

The Convoy District is listed as a destination on the San Diego Tourism Authority’s website, along with Balboa Park, SeaWorld, Coronado, La Jolla, Mission Bay Park, Little Italy and many other iconic local destinations. But Garces said the district’s restaurants primarily draw customers who already live in the region, not tourists.

“It’s more of a local thing,” said Garces, adding that the Convoy District’s central location in the county makes it an easy commute for nearly everyone.

The new designation could help bring more tourists, Garces said. Some of the Convoy District’s more than 100 restaurants are already listed in tourism books, and the district’s Spicy City is recognized by the prestigious Michelin guide.

But less is known about the area’s innovation economy, which includes dozens of start-up technology companies located in what Garces called “hidden incubators.”

Jeff Sallen, chairman of the Kearny Mesa Community Planning Group, hailed the new designation. “I think it’s absolutely progress for the area,” he said.

“We love having such a special area that’s so culturally rich. It brings many people to Kearny Mesa who would not otherwise come here.”

Sallen said some older residents of Kearny Mesa don’t support the new designation because the Convoy District symbolizes change — more traffic, more people and the kind of night life Kearny Mesa has never had before.

The Convoy District has evolved from a handful of small mom-and-pop stores in the 1980’s and 1990’s that included a few Asian entrepreneurs who gravitated to the area primarily due to the comparatively low rents.

Younger generations slowly took over many of the businesses, making them more modern and expanding the Pan-Asian area beyond Convoy Street to include Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Mercury Street and Balboa Avenue.

Garces said an arch over Convoy Street, which could cost roughly $500,000, is a goal of the nonprofit. The new designation also makes the district eligible for freeway signs alerting people to the area, but the costs of those signs must be covered by the nonprofit.

“These signs will direct drivers to this culturally unique and historically significant area within San Diego,” Assemblyman Todd Gloria said Tuesday. “This will further cement the Convoy District as a top destination spot in San Diego.”

Article By: David Garrick, The San Diego Union Tribune

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