The Coast News Group

Hospital redevelopment seen as key to dynamic downtown

ESCONDIDO — A major transaction is poised to give the city a big lift.

Last month, Palomar Health announced an $18 million deal with Integral Communities to purchase the downtown site. According to media reports, the hospital has 15 months before the real estate company takes ownership so the hospital can transition employees.

For years the Escondido City Council has been working with Palomar Health to facilitate a sale and help with revitalization efforts downtown.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Integral Communities Principal Lance Waite. “To have the west end with the (old) police station and start to connect Grand Avenue.”

He said the firm has begun efforts for turning the police property into 126 residential condos. Waite said his firm had not targeted the health center after purchasing the police station, but once they started research, both projects made sense.

However, with Palomar Health Integral Communities has bookended Grand Avenue and is lining up with the City Council’s vision for downtown.

As for the hospital, Waite said they intend to use as much of what is there as possible. He said his firm is evaluating the property before construction commences.

The plan is for residential use, which Waite said they intend to construct, along with supporting downtown businesses and creating a more walkable and bikeable area.

However, there are thoughts of a mixed-use concept, although he said input from the city and other stakeholders will determine the direction of the project.

“Our goal is to support the businesses already there and not necessarily bring in competitive businesses,” he added. “If we can provide businesses there that would be supportive of what’s existing and support the community of what we’re thinking about, that would be the best solution. It’s very creative on how we can use the site.”

After his State of the City speech on Feb. 28, Mayor Sam Abed said he was thrilled with the announcement and the prospects of the new community.

The 15-month gap, meanwhile, is a benefit for both the city and Integral Communities, Waite said. Abed said the city’s main goal is to strive for the best quality project to enhance downtown.

The two-term mayor also said the property may be able to hold up to 500 units, and coupled with the 126 at the old police station, is key for a more thriving and bustling downtown.

Waite said his firm will work the city of Escondido, Chamber of Commerce and other stakeholders to deliver the best project possible.

“It’s going to double the number of housing in the downtown area,” Abed said. “Right now, we have several projects that have almost 700 to 800 units being built near the hospital. Now, with 14 acres, you can build over 500 units and that is really going to bring people downtown and will really fit with our vision.”

He said once the projects are completed, it will be one of the most “dynamic” urban centers in Southern California.

“We have been expecting (this),” Abed said. “We told the hospital we want to have the highest and best use. They are very appreciated that Integral Communities is going to do the project. They have done great projects in our city and I think they will do a great mixed-use development.”