On March 25, 2010, the Reader published a story titled “What's Up with the Big Cortez Hole?” The hyped Atmosphere condo development had fizzled and left a giant construction hole between Fourth and Fifth avenues (between Ash and Beech streets). The deep and hazardous site with exposed rebar was eventually filled with dirt and fenced in.
After years of negotiations and financing plans, Wakeland Housing and Development Corp. has begun work on the new Atmosphere: an $80 million, 12-story, 205-unit affordable-housing development. Construction walkways are now in place at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Beech St.
Demolition will begin immediately on two empty buildings on the site previously occupied by California Stamp Co. and Spencer S. Busby law offices. Owners of those properties were paid $2.4 million plus relocation costs to vacate.
An adjacent building, the Beechwood hotel/apartment property at 1475 Fourth Avenue, was not purchased for inclusion in the Atmosphere construction site. The property was recently listed for sale (at $2.7 million), but it's been taken off the market, said Josh Browar, a senior associate with South Coast Commercial. He explained that the owner decided to do renovation work on the building.
Browar said Wakeland wasn't interested in the Beechwood lot, as they've locked in their plans, approvals, and costs for Atmosphere. Wakeland might have been interested two years ago, Browar added.
Ken Sauder, president of Wakeland, echoed what Browar said. “Increasing our footprint would change the project and we would need to put together a new financing plan, which could take several more years.”
Currently a senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle, Jeff Graham was immersed in the Atmosphere project while VP and later president of CivicSD. Graham is now a boardmember at Wakeland. Without redevelopment money, the project had to seek funds elsewhere. It includes tax credits, state infill funding, Mental Health Services Act program, project-based Section 8 vouchers, and a San Diego Housing Commission loan.
As for the Beechwood, Graham said, if the property is re-listed, this “could be a good opportunity for an affordable-housing developer to acquire it.” Its units are said to be 99 percent full most of the time.
Atmosphere will include studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom units; completion is slated for early 2017. Rents are expected to be $394 to $1,191 per month, based on income. Fifty-one apartments will be reserved for special-needs residents.