Escondido might have finally found a way to revive its downtown, 27 years after a major shopping mall that opened on the edge of the city took away all the national retailers and most of the customers.
After trying unsuccessfully to reinvent itself several times over the years, downtown Escondido is experiencing a boom this fall with the arrival of a popular microbrewery, multiple restaurants and a small private university focused on filmmaking.
The businesses have brought more crowds downtown and have filled some conspicuous vacancies that gave the area a negative vibe.
Merchants and community leaders say the combination of a university and restaurants that are popular with young people seems to be achieving success that has eluded previous efforts to bolster the area.
Those have included the city spending $81 million on a downtown performing arts center 20 years ago, and attempts to create an art district with dozens of galleries in the mid-2000s.
The new arrivals this fall have helped the city build on other recent efforts to bolster the area.
Those include the opening of the $3 million Maple Street Pedestrian Plaza last fall, two new upscale housing projects that have opened since last year, and city officials eliminating nearly all parking restrictions two years ago.
Dan Forster, president of the Downtown Business Association, said much of the credit should go to Swami’s, a regional Mexican restaurant chain that took over the old 150 Grand site in September; Plan 9 Alehouse, which opened in the Theatrx building two weeks ago; and John Paul the Great Catholic University, which took over four vacant downtown buildings early this month.
Forster said Swami’s was a nice addition because it has “built-in” customers and name recognition from the chain’s successful restaurants in Oceanside and Encinitas. Nearly all the other restaurants downtown aren’t part of a chain.
The university, which has about 170 students but expects to triple in size over the next few years, has brought new energy to downtown, Forster said.
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