The state’s redevelopment program to invest in blighted communities left behind a lot of successes when it dissolved in 2012. But it also left behind a lot of empty lots — properties that San Diego’s redevelopment agency planned to rehab before its time ran out.
The El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association got its hands on one of those lots this month. It signed a lease with the city for the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and Central Avenue along Interstate 15.
The group began negotiating for the property after it learned the city put it up for sale as part of the redevelopment wind down.
“We were very afraid that it was going to turn into a service station or a convenience store, and there’s so much better use that can be done with this,” the group’s president, Tootie Thomas, said.
Thomas and the group’s marketing coordinator, Beryl Forman, are reaching out to nonprofits and arts groups, including the Fern Street Circus, on how they want to see the space used.
“Even if it’s something that lasts for a month, it just brings the energy out,” Thomas said. “And when you do that, then the community comes out.”
That’s true of a similar effort two miles west. Once a month, residents gather in a strip mall parking lot to enjoy food and music. Several new business have cropped up in the area, including an artisan butcher shop and boutique coffee roaster.
Thomas said the City Heights project will fill in the gap between more active sections of the boulevard in North Park and Little Saigon. The business association has been working with businesses in both areas on marketing and pedestrian-friendly investments.
“That’s how we saw the hubs — that they would kick off these little sparks,” Thomas said. “So now developers are coming in and they’re say, ‘Oh, what’s going here? What could go here?'”
The El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association plans to host a reception at the lot in May, and hopes to have word on the fate of another dirt lot just across the freeway overpass.