SAN DIEGO — “Something new. Something different. Something fresh.”
That’s how Jeffrey Essakow, president of Protea Properties, described the renovated Flower Hill Promenade, which will kick off a five-day grand opening Feb. 27; the same day anchor tenant Whole Foods Market will begin serving customers.
Essakow called the $30 million project a “10-year journey,” that included “a little bit of resistance,” from nearby residents, the city of San Diego and the California Coastal Commission.
“But it was very, very worthwhile,” he said. “We worked through all of those issues. We worked as a team. We collaborated and the neighbors came around and really embraced the project.”
Protea purchased the 14-acre site, formerly known as the Flower Hill Mall, in 2002. “It’s always been our vision, from day one, to renovate,” Essakow said. “Most of our projects we buy and add value. We wanted to take advantage of underutilized square footage.”
The project has gone through several redesigns since the first plans were presented about a decade ago. Concerns about increased traffic and the overall size of the project prompted the formation of an opposition group, Citizens Against Flower Hill’s Expansion.
“We finally scaled this thing down,” Essakow said.
There was also controversy between the city of San Diego, where the property is located, and the California Coastal Commission over which agency had jurisdiction to grant permits. (It’s the city.)
Renovation work finally began in 2011. Essakow said the focus was to create “gathering spaces” to encourage people to do more than just come and shop.
“We are grouping businesses together to create a symbiotic relationship,” he said. For example, Beach Bungalow Designs, Sweetpea Children’s Shop, Geppetto’s toy store and Pigtails and Crewcuts, where youngsters can get a haircut while sitting in a fire engine, are clustered at the west end, close to a planned outdoor children’s play area with slides and swings.
“It’s a really cool center where stores are unique,” Essakow said.
Flower Hill continues to feature independently owned boutique stores, which property manager M. Rose Jabin said provides shoppers with a higher level of customer service.
“A lot of the stores are run by owners or managers so they have a greater stake in it,” she said.
While many longtime favorites remain at Flower Hill, there is no shortage of new shops. Essakow said no tenants were lost during construction, but some, such as Book Works, left before the renovations began, mainly due to the economy.
Some opted to leave, while for others, such as the UltraStar theater that was replaced by Whole Foods, Protea chose not to renew the leases.
The rejuvenated center has 70,000 additional square feet of retail space and eight restaurants, including a planned pizza and sandwich shop with outdoor seating and a beer and wine bar in Whole Foods.
Taste of Thai and Milton’s Deli remain, but Chevy’s will be replaced by Cucina Enoteca, a two-story restaurant with the same kitchen-meets-historic farmhouse concept as its sister eatery, Cucina Urbana, on Laurel Street downtown. That is expected to open in May.
A new restaurant from the owners of Urban Solace in North Park and Solace & the Moonlight Lounge in Encinitas will take over the space previously occupied by Paradise Grill.
What was once Tony Roma’s is now Burger Lounge, featuring sandwiches from grass-fed cows, fresh-cut fries and onion rings and organic salads.
Even the Mobil gas station was upgraded.
“We’ve maintained the integrity without trying to compete with UTC or Fashion Valley, not that we’re knocking major malls,” Essakow said. “We want to differentiate ourselves by bringing something different to the area.”
Storefronts have been redesigned, wood railings have been replaced with iron and the entrance was widened. “We freshened it up with a little bit of color so it’s a seamless renovation that doesn’t look like it’s part old and part new,” Essakow said.
With a new total of 167,000 square feet, Flower Hill provides about 1,100 parking stalls, including a 420-space, three-story parking structure behind Whole Foods that was once a major concern for nearby residents.
“It’s not this obnoxious structure,” Essakow said. “We worked hard to ensure we accomplished that. People have asked me when it’s going to be built. They’re surprised when I tell them it’s already open. You can barely see it from (Interstate 5).”
The opening will include fashion shows and music in center courtyards that will feature pavers, wooden stages, benches and olive trees.