San Diego again tries to build on vacant property in the heart of North Park | Update News

The historic Woolworth Building in North Park has sat empty for years on a prestigious lot along University Avenue, despite attempts by San Diego authorities to renovate it. But the city is ready to try – once again – to redesign the property.

It is still far from him.

The city on Friday listed the Woolworth building as one of the properties it considers “surplus land,” a mandatory first step for any redevelopment. Developers now have 60 days to express interest in renovating it, and will need to reserve 25 percent of the homes in the project for low-income residents if they agree to do so.

This is due to the Surplus Lands Act, a decades-old law that the California Legislature amended in 2019 to give affordable housing developers the ability to redevelop public land in hopes of alleviating the housing crisis.

Murals cover faded paint on the vacant Woolworth building on October 20, 2022, as construction continues on the sidewalk. / Photo by Gabriel Schneider

Previously, the Woolworth building was exempt from Affordable Housing Act requirements under the Surplus Land Act because the city had a deal with a development group called North Park Gateway LLC that was almost ten years old before the law was changed.

When the developer abandoned the project in December 2021, the status of the deal was outdated.

Originally selected in 2011, North Park Gateway LLC abandoned the project late last year, claiming it was no longer allocated. One executive, Lida Cohen, said the company has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants, historic asset management and more.

“I’m a small investor,” she said. “I am not going to [go] broke on this project.

One of the initial and primary reasons for the delay was California’s statewide dismantling of redevelopment agencies shortly before the city struck a deal with North Park Gateway LLC. These agencies were created in the mid-20th century as a means of helping local governments reverse blight in commercial and residential areas by increasing property tax revenue to subsidize ongoing improvements in the area.

After the redevelopment ended, San Diego had several projects tied up somewhere in the process, but without the certainty of the subsidy they were counting on when they signed the agreement.

“I stopped thinking a long time ago that something could really happen to the Woolworth building,” said Vicki Granowitz, former chair of the North Park planning committee. “Especially after the redevelopment fell apart.”

However, Jerry McCormick, a spokesman for the city, said the pandemic also helped kill the project, after it caused North Park Gateway to fail to close the project’s escrow under the terms of an agreement with the city.

Prior to the agreement being terminated, the ground floor was intended for commercial use, while the top floor was to house 10 residential units, one of which was considered affordable, meaning it was intended for low-income tenants. If developers show no interest in the property within the current 60-day period, the City will be able to pursue a traditional property sale, with any subsequent housing project over 10 units being required to allocate 15 percent to low-income residents.

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