Jim Watkins | Grand Avenue
Del Mar’s revitalization has been progressive over the past 50 years. In 1967 Del Mar was known as “Gasoline Alley.” With 11 service stations it was the Pit Stop for gas, food and beverages for travelers between Los Angeles and San Diego. Interstate 5 by-passed Del Mar; the Hotel closed and Del Mar’s economy was devastated.
In 1969 an economic analysis entitled “WHY DEL MAR” was utilized to revitalize the Village. The analysis concluded Del Mar’s greatest potential was simply to build on and enhance Del Mar’s unique history, charm and small village character. The analysis attracted investors to develop the Del Mar Inn, Canterbury Corner, three restaurants, the purchase of Stratford Square, and brought 30 new businesses within 2 ½ years. Del Mar’s economy was stabilized.
In 1989, the Del Mar Plaza and L’Auberge hotel opened, revitalizing the village and providing the City two new major sources of revenue. L’Auberge has provided over $30 million in revenue to the City since opening.
During the same time, buildings downtown between 9th and 13th have simply gotten older and most new structures are office buildings. As a result the total downtown mix from 9th to 13th now consists of 20 beauty salons, 32 offices, 14 miscellaneous (such as Dexter’s, yoga shops and UPS), 9 restaurants and only 3 retail shops. Downtown has lost much of its old vibrancy, uniqueness, charm and small village character. When residents were asked “Where do you go downtown?” Most said - “We don’t, except to restaurants” - downtown no longer fully serves its residents.
The 1972 Community Plan goal is “a vibrant, economically productive, pedestrian oriented downtown to better serve residents.” The reality is, things have gotten worse. In the past 5 years Del Mar has lost 27 retail shops, and 9 restaurants have failed.
A downtown cannot be vibrant without a strong retail component. Shopping opportunities are a reason for residents to come back into town and for visitors to get out of their cars and walk.
The good news is more will happen in the next few years than has occurred in the past 50. First credit our City Council, City staff, and community vote for our new expanded Civic Center and Streetscape. The pedestrian traffic generated by the Civic Center as the southern anchor and the L’Auberge with 50,000 visitors annually as the northern anchor will allow the small shops in between to flourish.
New developments include 941’s retail and garden style restaurant, a proposed new restaurant/retail development on the NW corner of 13th and CDM, Hillstone restaurant, and the Del Mar Plaza’s new restaurant and millions in upgrades. It is the Del Mar Streetscape, however, which will provide a pedestrian friendly environment that pulls all the components together.
Upon completion of Streetscape with the WHY DEL MAR vision, unique, quality individual retailers can visualize Del Mar’s potential. With these efforts, plus the proposed building facade changes, Del Mar can emerge as the vibrant, economically productive, unique, historic, charming small village we all desire by 2020-2021.