Thrill's Not Gone Yet for Crowds at Horton Plaza

Times Staff Writer

After three weeks of premieres, parties and pounding the pavement, Horton Plaza's novelty has yet to wear off.

The $149-million mall is the county's largest attraction, boasting attendance figures that top even those for the San Diego Zoo or Sea World.

Three- to five thousand people cruise through the complex every hour, Horton Plaza officials said.

"We kept waiting for the rush to slow down, and it never did," said Lesley Binder, Horton Plaza's marketing director.

With an estimated 48,000 visitors a day, Horton Plaza merchants, security guards and San Diego Police expected to have their hands full trying to keep shoplifters, loiterers and transients under control.

Police reported a handful of vagrancy and shoplifting arrests the first week of business, but since that time, officials say, the complex has been "surprisingly orderly."

"During the first week when . . . thousands of people visited the plaza, we received less than one dozen calls to the Horton Plaza area," said San Diego Police Department spokesman Bill Robinson.

In fact, San Diego police officers who patrol the area say they spend most of their time giving directions to stray shoppers.

"I think they should put a big sign in front of the mall that says THIS IS HORTON PLAZA so people who are standing smack in front of Robinson's stop asking me where the place is," San Diego policeman Harvey Love said.

"Everyone seemed to think this was going to be a hang-out for transients (from the adjacent Gaslamp District), but they stay away from the place," said Officer C.L. Steppe. "They just stay over there across the street and watch the people spend their money."

Horton Plaza security guards patrol the complex at night, and despite worries that the mall might become a haven for the homeless, security guards say the transients just pass through occasionally on their way to another location.

"If they keep moving and are not causing any trouble, we don't want to, or can't be, too heavy-handed with them," said Ron Burns, assistant director of the plaza.

According to merchants, police and Horton Plaza security personnel, shoplifters--who would normally have a heyday in the record-breaking crowds--are having a difficult time practicing their trade.

Horton Plaza security guards comb the complex on a 24-hour patrol, but it is up to individual merchants to provide security for their stores.

Most stores in the complex have taken more security measures, and owners are taking extra precautions against shoplifting and pilferage.

Horton Plaza department stores--Mervyn's, Robinson's and Nordstrom--have each installed state-of-the-art crime-deterrence systems, and although none of the stores were willing to talk about their electronic security systems, store spokesmen say they have lost less merchandise to shoplifters than during last year's Christmas rush at their other San Diego stores.

With 48,000 people visiting the complex every day, city officials and developers thought the 2,400-car parking garage would be too small. But "the lot has proved to be large enough to accommodate Horton Plaza shoppers and then some," said Burns, who added that downtown workers also were using the parking facility.

That will end Wednesday, when Horton Plaza officials lift the courtesy parking policy and, without a proof of purchase, will charge parking patrons $1 for each half-hour for the first three hours of use, and $1 per hour for the next three hours, for a maximum of $9.50 a day.

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