Two nine-story buildings for Little Italy

“Cities like new hotels.”

Building on northwest corner of State and Grape slated for demolition
  • Building on northwest corner of State and Grape slated for demolition

The hotel building boom in San Diego continues unabated. Two new hotel projects at a Little Italy site are now under review by Civic San Diego. Most of the structures on the property surrounded by Hawthorn, State, Grape, and Columbia streets will be demolished.

The owner/developer is listed as “AHST 8 LLC” in the plans submitted to CivicSD. The developer company is actually Wm Builders, Inc. in Scripps Ranch. Architectural firm is AVRP Skyport Studios of San Diego. AVRP won a Golden Nugget Award from Pacific Coast Builders Conference for its design of the new Seaport San Diego project.

Southeast corner of Columbia and Hawthorn

Southeast corner of Columbia and Hawthorn

The Columbia & Hawthorn project proposes a 9-story, 83-foot-tall residential and hotel building with 33 apartments, 22 hotel rooms, a restaurant, and 101 automobile parking spaces. The State & Grape project proposes a 9-story, 86-foot tall residential and hotel building with 92 apartments, 56 hotel rooms, and 64 parking spaces. The site is adjacent to I-5.

The projects are located in the Downtown Community Plan area and require development permits “for deviations from development standards.” The Columbia & Hawthorn hotel will rise on the southeast corner of Columbia and Hawthorn streets. The State & Grape hotel will be constructed on the northwest corner of State and Grape streets.

Proposed Columbia & Hawthorn project

Proposed Columbia & Hawthorn project

Gary Smith is president of San Diego Downtown Residents Group, a nonprofit organization that deals with community development issues in several neighborhoods including Little Italy. Smith said that “the residential lobbies are problematic, just a door on the street opening to elevator lobby; so is off-street loading for residential buildings. Hope for some improvement [and] perfectly good background design.”

Bruce Baltin, managing director at CBRE Hotels Consulting based in Los Angeles, deals with hotel developers in San Diego. Baltin said the San Diego market can easily absorb more hotel projects.

The hotel/residential building planned for corner of State and Grape streets

The hotel/residential building planned for corner of State and Grape streets

“Cities like new hotels,” Baltin said. He added that prospective residents of this type of hotel enjoy the extra services offered, such as a restaurant, room service, and housekeeping. As for branding, Baltin said the hotels might not go with national brands due to their size.

Harborview Inn & Suites (rated 2.5 stars on Yelp.com), 550 W. Grape Street (at Columbia Street) will stay at its current location. That hotel owner declined to be interviewed for this article. Wm Builders and AVRP Skyport Studios did not immediately respond to a request for comments.

The first public meetings are: Downtown Community Planning Council pre-design subcommittee, on September 12 at 5:15 p.m.; and CivicSD design review subcommittee, September 13 at 9 a.m. Both take place at 401 B Street, suite 400. After more meetings (to be announced), the final decision rests with the CivicSD board of directors.

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How far is this from the flight path? How do airline pilots feel about this?

From looking at a Google map, it's south of the flight path. And I'm thinking the developers have done their homework on that issue.

It's not far, but it doesn't matter. The San Diego International Airport Land Use Plan was adopted in 2014. All developments must (and will) comply, you'd be wasting serious time and money trying to develop a site without following the FAA regulations (like Sunroad near Montgomery Field):

For the insomniacs, here's a list of all of the county ALUP's:


Useful information! I looked at the plan for Lindbergh, and here's a map showing Little Italy. But I think you need a PhD to understand all the accompanying data in the plan.


by dwbat

No doubt they are complex. From what I've seen, many architects hire out consultants or have on staff someone who has experience calculating all of this and all of the other zoning regulations like parking, sun overlay, etc (to answer that question below on sun overlay, they are also in the zoning regs for downtown). All the calcs are usually shown on the cover sheet of plans I've seen in the past. Once a planning file is open, you can usually go look at it at the counter, but you can't take copies or photos.

My observational experience recently is most developers are actually trying to follow the current zoning, at least when doing in-fill development. There's absolutely no point in wasting time and money on trying to get more units. There are exceptions (like lower parking ratios), but overall, most are just building exactly what is in the rules. It's cheaper and easier. For reference, look at what Jonathan Segal builds, he's building to existing density regs, he can get it done without community opposition, and that helps his profit by keeping building cycles shorter. As an example of what not to do, look at One Paseo and how many years it took to get done. I'm not taking a position here, just noting the length of time to building permit and the dollars spent on both sides. Slightly different situation, but sometimes the path of least resistance is better.

Jonathan Segal did have to make changes at his 320 W. Cedar St. apt. project, after some "community opposition." Then the project was later approved.

To Steve Brown on Facebook: I don't live there, and don't go there often. But I think the development of Little Italy with apartments and condos is what helped save the neighborhood from its deteriorated condition some years back. There are so many popular restaurants, coffee cafes and cool shops, where both tourists and locals frequent. So I think the Italian heart and soul of Little Italy is still there.

This reminds me of my receding hairline, you don't really notice the changes day by day, but you sure do over time.

Little Italy has not receded THAT much! hahaha

Don't you go throwing shade at the follically chalanged.

Well, if if had feathers and wings, I'd look like a bald eagle myself!

It will be a miracle if there's a sunny corner left anywhere in Little Italy once these big blocky buildings go up. Shade is everywhere. As for "the Italian heart and soul of Little Italy," well, that disappeared when the original Solunto Bakery's semolina bread disappeared along with its lovely small premises. Mona Lisa Grocery will soon have trendy competition and then you can say goodbye to many kinds of olives and cheese and bacalao in crates on the floor.

Some years back when I lived downtown, I'd walk to The Market by Buon Appetito at India and Cedar, and buy a few things.

The heart of Little Italy is Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic church at State and Date. It's still going strong, but it's a commuter parish. Very few of the Italians still live in the neighborhood.

How many restaurateurs, bar owners, craft beer entrepreneurs and store proprietors in North Park live in the neighborhood? Does it really matter?

Simple. Just rename it "Big Italy." Where the jets meet the tiramisu.

Or maybe "Little Italy: Where the past is combined with the future."

I worked on tune seiners in the late 70’s Most of the captains and crews were Portuguese or Italian. Many had homes in Little Italy and Point Loma. Those that invested in commercial property in Little Italy did very well. The irony about the complaints of gentrification is, the developers could not build if those original settlers did not sell their properties for a handsome profit. Why demonize the developers? They bought those lots from original Little Italy residents.

I remember a day back in March 2010 in Little Italy when the great Frankie Laine (one of my favorite singers) was honored with a plaque outside his favorite restaurant, Trattoria Fantastica. Father Joe Carroll, his longtime friend, did the dedication. There was also a musical tribute, with singers performing Frankie's hits. During the concert I sat right next to a well-dressed lady who looked very familiar, but I couldn't place her. I learned later it was famous singer Patti Page (from my hometown of Tulsa).


by dwbat

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