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A Del Mar Identity Crisis? 
February 2009 | by Sam Borgese, 10th Street

Once again Del Mar is mounting a vigorous campaign to “revitalize” its downtown village commercial district. This time the efforts are being propelled by a hasty rush to increase City income from sales taxes generated by a new wave of retail development. However, is developing more retail space the right choice for Del Mar to build sustainable income?

The conversation over revitalization of Del Mar’s commercial zone has been taking place for all of thirty-three years. During those years there have been numerous attempts to protect existing retail and add new retail. All have failed except for the construction of the Del Mar Plaza and the L’Auberge Hotel. And although both of these projects brought new retail and hospitality capacity they failed to ignite a wildfire of new retail within the commercial zone.

The debate used to be whether or not residents supported the commercial zone. Now the debate is how the community can meet its financial needs through a more vital center. That is certainly progress in the direction to realizing new growth within the commercial district. However that progress has, as usual, become stalled in the conversation of what the commercial zone should be when it does grow.

Despite the very best intentions and efforts by yet another new revitalization organization, Del Mar will not realize a vital commercial core until the community as a whole makes the choice between a village that looks like every other retail centric village or a village that differentiates itself with a plan that best represents the tone and style of its residents and the Community Plan.

In the past, this plan centered on the Hollywood theme associated with the Del Mar Racetrack. And although this seasonal function remains a favored event, its 45 days a year of promoting the Del Mar racing season is not sufficient to sustain vibrant commercial activity for the remaining 320 days.

Perhaps we are missing something that is so obvious that we have passed over its merit.

Could Del Mar become a community that invites people 365 day a year to stimulate the mind to create new ideas and creations that move the world forward, a city that becomes known as the incubator of thought and knowledge leadership?
Every day we see people who attend workshops, off-sites and seminars at L’Auberge or other nearby hotels strolling along the Del Mar beach talking and enjoying our best asset, our environment. Many of our residents are leaders in one of the largest areas in the world for biotechnology located just three miles south. Many residents remained in Del Mar after their participation in the founding of Psychology Today magazine which was based in Del Mar and many more are past and current professors of UCSD or other major universities in San Diego. And there is always the surprise to learn that one or more Del Mar residents are recognized internationally as thought and knowledge leaders within their specialties, industries or ventures. Our City Council is currently comprised of people who fit these descriptions.

Why not recognize who we are and what we would like to offer to people who visit Del Mar? Why not give our visitors more than just a T-shirt. Why not give them an experience that lifts their thoughts, an experience that remains with them their entire lives? Why not develop the form and function of the revitalization of the commercial zone that speaks loudly of the pride we have in contributing to the well being of ourselves and to others around this earth? Why not create a commercial area of bed and breakfasts, small restaurants and cafes, and other complementary retail that attracts more small groups of seminars and corporate off-site meetings and other similar educational activities? Why not market the brand Del Mar under a banner of social and commercial responsibility?

Once we have real clarity on the core of who we are and what we want to be in a way that the entire community can support, then we will be rewarded with a successful and sustainable commercial district. At least the buildings, businesses and activities resulting from such an effort will be an honest invitation to come to our community, to share its beauty and to support our commercial center. It will come from who we are and what we believe as a community.

Isn’t that what really attracts people to return to a favorite location over and over again. Or is it another T-shirt?



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