Fab Lab Moves Downtown as San Diego Sets Out to Create its Own SoMa

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the market crashed in 2008,” says David Malmuth, a downtown real-estate developer. Malmuth formed a partnership with builder Pete Garcia in 2011 to advance their shared vision for the entire I.D.E.A. District.

The I.D.E.A. District “blossomed out of that downturn,” says Pennington. “It provided a moment to pause and reflect on what we’ve been doing wrong and right.”

Among the changes that resulted, Pennington says, was a more holistic and comprehensive approach for developing the entire 93-acre East Village neighborhood. Malmuth and Garcia “did an amazing amount of grassroots community outreach,” Pennington says, enabling them to create a shared vision for an urban neighborhood that mixes existing warehouses with new and renovated housing, space for startups, professional offices, parks, and public spaces.

The East Village neighborhood encompasses San Diego City College, the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and the NewSchool of Architecture and Design. Connecting with those institutions, as well as downtown artists and culture, is where the concept for the I.D.E.A. district came from, Malmuth says.

A "Food Truck Friday" in Silo public space at Makers Quarter

A “Food Truck Friday” in Silo public space at Makers Quarter

As Malmuth and Garcia wrote in 2012, their underlying goal was to create an urban environment with the characteristics that would attract 24-to-35-year-olds who are college-educated, often with post-graduate degrees, and working as entrepreneurs or in knowledge-based industries. “The missing piece downtown is jobs,” Malmuth says. So any redevelopment needs to attract “highly educated and innovative people who are well paid.”

Their thinking was influenced, at least in part, by the work of Portland economist Joe Cortright, who has identified correlations between cities that attract young talent and a region’s overall economic prosperity. The criteria needed to attract the young and talented, include walkable (and bike-able) urban neighborhoods with a rich mix of such cultural amenities as vegetable gardens, craft breweries, stores, and restaurants.

But “instead of an ethos of ‘build it and they will come,’ ” Pennington says the development team “added a layer” to their development plan by finding ways to connect with the existing East Village community. In the Makers Quarter, for example, Pennington says their development plan calls for re-purposing a huge warehouse that was used in the 1950s as a furniture factory, warehouse, and showroom.

“Having that kind of a maker space is a critical part of making the ecosystem successful,” says Malmuth. He has described the I.D.E.A. District as the consummate project of his career, which includes working with Disney on the restoration of New York’s Amsterdam Theater, and a mixed-use development in Hollywood that includes the auditorium for the annual Academy Awards show.

So far, however, most of the projects in the I.D.E.A. District have been relatively low-cost efforts like Silo, an outdoor space for community events and other activities, and a nonprofit “Smarts Farm” garden. “Right now, we’re on the street marketing our first phase of commercial office space,” Pennington says.

Meanwhile, Malmuth and Garcia have been working with partner Lowe Enterprises to develop a full city block owned by the San Diego Community College District in the middle of the I.D.E.A District. Their plan calls for building 100,000 square feet of “creative office space,” 138 apartment units, and stores and restaurants in a major public space.

In other words, the heavy lifting needed to make the I.D.E.A. District a reality has only just begun.

Concept for Interior Courtyard of IDEA District Project (Courtesy IDEA Partners)

Concept for Interior Courtyard of IDEA District Project (Courtesy IDEA Partners)

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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