ESCONDIDO — City officials bid farewell Friday, Aug. 6 to the former Palomar Hospital downtown campus, which will be torn down over the next seven months to make way for the new Palomar Heights residential and commercial project.
For nearly 70 years, the hospital has served the residents of Escondido and other nearby North County communities. The site was previously home to Escondido City Hall before it became a hospital in 1953.
The 13.54 acres of land will be transformed into Palomar Heights, a project that will construct 510 residential units and up to 10,000 square feet of commercial and office space.
Lance Waite, a principal with project developer Integral Communities, said the project promises a farmer’s market, coffee shop, sky lounge bar and restaurant area that is all open to the public, meanwhile, those who live there have access to the site’s gym, collaborative workspaces, resort-style pool, dog park and proximity to downtown activities.
“The real focal point as you drive east on Grand Avenue is a public restaurant sky lounge that sits 75-feet tall,” Waite told The Coast News.
Waite also said Palomar Heights would carry on the former hospital’s decades-old tradition of displaying its Christmas tree lights on the very top of the tallest building in Escondido.
Developers of the project hosted a groundbreaking ceremony at the former hospital, inviting members of the Escondido City Council, staff and other local businesses to attend.
Councilmember Joe Garcia, who is also a pastor, delivered a prayer at the groundbreaking ceremony followed by Deputy Mayor Mike Morasco who also gave a speech in honor of the site’s history and future.
“Our community today will bid farewell to a piece of our city’s history and welcome a transformative project that will further enhance our downtown area,” Morasco said. “Once completed, Palomar Heights will become a meeting place for residents and visitors alike to inhale the beauty of this amazing city through a 360-degree view from atop the sky lounge.”
According to Waite, Palomar Heights will help address the city’s housing shortage and would also help to support local businesses.
“It will bring nearly 1,000 new residents to the streets of downtown Escondido,” Waite said.
City Council approved the project in a 3-2 vote back in January. Morasco, Garcia and Councilmember Tina Inscoe all agreed that the development could attract families and help revitalize the area.
While the project has received some support from the Chamber of Commerce and city officials, some groups have questioned its lack of affordable housing opportunities and density.
Mayor Paul McNamara and Councilmember Consuelo Martinez both voted against the project due to its lack of affordable housing. The Coast News previously reported that the mayor was so strongly opposed to the project that he didn’t even want his name associated with it.
The Sierra Club of North County Group demanded that a larger project with at least 900-1,000 units with a “significant percentage of affordable housing” be included.
Additionally, the Partnership for Downtown Escondido wants to see a “better plan” than the Palomar Heights project, which the group argues will “limit the collective vibrancy and economic potential” of downtown.
According to Integral Communities, the 510 units will be “attainably priced homes” ranging from 600 to 1,875 square feet in a “walkable, thriving mixed-use community.” The development will include 258 for-rent apartments, 90 senior apartments for ages 55 and up, and 162 for-sale row homes and villas.
Now sitting quiet, dark and vacant with the exception of construction crews, the former hospital building will be torn down beginning from top to bottom over the next six to seven months. Building the new project will take roughly two more years after deconstruction.
Crews have already started taking copper and other materials out of the old building to be reused in the new one.
“We’ll reuse as much as possible,” Waite said.
Morasco reaffirmed his support of Integral Communities at the ceremony as the project begins “transforming the old into the new.” He encouraged everyone else to do the same.
“These walls will today be torn down to make way for the promise of tomorrow, the promise of new business, new life, new connections and collaborations, and finally the promise of rejuvenating downtown Escondido,” Morasco said. “I think everyone is excited to see that.”