Booming San Diego Takes Its Place in Sun

San Diego has added a missing ingredient to its city image with the splashy introduction of Horton Plaza, a downtown festival of retail business.

A fair and thorough critique of that complex is offered above.

With a population of close to 1 million, San Diego ranks as the nation's eighth largest city and California's second largest metropolis, boasting an unparalleled year-round climate.

Its bay and its skyline are distinct, and it has evolved from an out-of-the-way border town, overshadowed by that big city to the north, to become a great resort city. Long ago, it shed its outer layer of a city dependent upon a military-oriented economy.

Civic leaders, including its former mayor, Pete Wilson, now California's junior U .S. senator; Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, thousands of invited guests, residents and tourists took part in the opening ceremonies of the plaza Aug. 8-9. The plaza is the newest pet project of one of the nation's best-known developers, affable but shrewd Ernest W. Hahn.

With Horton Plaza, in the making for a decade and with a number of changes in its concept during that time, city leaders hope to fill what has been missing in downtown San Diego--business heft.

That certainly is the hope too of Ernest W. Hahn Inc., San Diego-based subsidiary of Trizec Corp., a major Canadian real estate firm.

The plaza, described as a model for a new generation of shopping centers, consists of various-sized buildings connected by stairways and walkways on different levels. Its no-dome, open-to-the-sky feature suits the locale--good weather mostly and infrequent disturbing rains. But it will take more than the great splashes of color in the plaza to make it profitable.

San Diegans must "come downtown" to support it. The plaza has side attractions planned--theaters, night-club entertainment and a museum--to entice townsfolk, tourists, conventioneers and to tap the vast potential from nearby Tijuana, across the border. Promotional material says "We're doing it up Downtown." That kind of support will eventually tell the tale.

The plaza area and the Horton name date back to 1867. The Horton House hotel, built on the present site of the U .S. Grant Hotel, opened for business on Oct. 10, 1870. Currently, the Grant hotel is undergoing a complete renovation and will become the newest segment in the redevelopment of downtown San Diego before the end of the year.

And just who was Horton?

Alonzo E. Horton speculated and bought himself a little "dirt," more than 900 acres for $265, according to city history, to start a new community that could benefit from its closeness to the bay.

With his shrewdness and vision, he had to be an early-day Ernie Hahn.

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