ESCONDIDO — Escondido business owners are expressing optimism over the city’s Grand Avenue Vision Project after initial construction on the project kicked off last week in the downtown area.
Construction on the multimillion dollar proposal started on Jan. 10, and the first phase of the project is expected to be wrapped up in March, per the city website.
“We’re super excited by this, it’s going to bring some well-needed improvements to the downtown area, and yes it’ll be inconvenient for a while but you have to look at the big picture which is going to be improvements to downtown that’ll help the businesses here,” said Louisa Magoon, owner of The Grand Tea Room on Grand Avenue.
Phase I of the plan will see the city install new string lighting and light posts on the block of Grand Avenue stretching from Maple to Kalmia streets, with additional plans to widen the sidewalks on the north side of the road from Maple to Broadway, according to Jonathan Schauble, a principal city engineer helping oversee project construction.
Other improvements in Phase I will include re-striping diagonal parking spaces between Maple and Kalmia and conducting pavement resurfacing from Escondido Boulevard to Juniper Street.
The city will also remove the dividing median on Grand Avenue between Maple and Kalmia and Maple and Broadway, permanently transforming that section of the thoroughfare from a four-lane to a two-lane road.
The project’s Phase II does not have a set start date but will not be completed until 2023, Schauble said. The second phase will see the city vastly expand the sidewalk widening for three blocks on both sides of the street between Maple and Juniper and will also see a roundabout traffic circle installed at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Broadway.
Phase I will cost the city approximately $2.5 million, while Phase II, the concept of which is still being developed by city engineers, is expected to cost around $5 million, Schauble said.
Both phases of the project are aimed at making the downtown corridor more aesthetically pleasing, while also simultaneously expanding parking access on Grand Avenue as well as making the corridor more pedestrian accessible, the engineer said.
“These improvements will enhance the pedestrian experience and the overall aesthetics of the historic downtown area,” Schauble said. “It’ll also enhance business opportunities by providing these larger outdoor spaces along the now permanently widened sidewalk that will allow for things like outdoor dining and outdoor retail.”
Dan Forester, owner of Design Moe Kitchen & Bath on Grand Avenue and vice president of the Escondido Downtown Business Association, said that the project will benefit downtown businesses by facilitating more consumer foot traffic in the area.
“The downtown business support of this has been great, the association supports it…we’re thrilled with it and the impacts that it’s going to have,” Forester said. “The idea of this plan is to encourage walkability…making this area more walkable and more attractive hopefully means that more of our downtown storefronts will benefit from that and see more customers coming in and out.”
The permanent widening of the sidewalks along Grand Avenue will be crucial for many merchants, especially outdoor restaurants, many of which came to rely on expanded outdoor spaces that were allowed by the city during the pandemic, Magoon said.
“It’ll increase foot traffic because they’re widening the sidewalks…our businesses here got used to the extended outdoor area where we could seat more people, we all got used to the sidewalks being wide and seeing more people outside, so this will bring more of that and it’ll draw more people downtown,” she said.
Re-striping the parking spots along Grand Avenue to diagonally shaped spaces will take up more room but will facilitate a vastly expanded number of parking spots in the downtown corridor, Schauble said, increasing convenience for residents and making the area more attractive to shoppers.
“Having more parking spaces and keeping the ones we have is a great improvement—I’m all for more parking, it’s what downtown really needs,” said Diana Gill, general manager at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto. “These improvements are going to make downtown more attractive, more pretty, and we already have so many great things on this street…but this is a long time coming and it’s what’s needed to revitalize Grand Avenue.”
The temporary closing of the sidewalk between Maple and Broadway for improvements will be a temporary annoyance to pedestrians traversing the area, and the construction will likely cause a significant amount of noise for surrounding establishments, Magoon said.
However, these issues should be looked at as short-term inconveniences when compared with the favorable end results of the project for businesses, consumers and locals, she added.
“For my own business, I have to be mindful this week of whether I put people out on the patio or not due to the noise level and, yeah, it’s a bit of pain right now, but this is ultimately really good and I’m super excited about this,” Magoon said.
According to Forester, the city has also worked to minimize the impact that the construction will have on the surrounding downtown area, performing a significant amount of the project’s work at night to avoid daytime disruptions to business activities.
Additionally, Forester said the city intentionally timed the project to start following the holidays after consulting with Grand Avenue business owners on how best to diminish the construction work’s impact on the surrounding area.
“The city’s been great about keeping us in the loop and what impacts this is going to have, they gave merchants here an idea of when they wanted to start this, they sent out a sample email polling merchants about when this would be ideal and that’s how they go the thought of doing this after the New Year in January,” Forester said.
While the Vision Project is not the only “piece of the puzzle” needed to revitalize the corridor, it’s an important step forward, said James Rowten, president of the Escondido Chamber of Commerce.
“When you look at the Grand Avenue project and what’s going on…Grand Avenue is really a very unique piece of real estate for Escondido…it’s an attraction unique to Escondido, and we are all in favor of doing whatever can be done to make this a vibrant business community,” said Rowten.
“We do think this project is a unique experience that could be had and ultimately an attraction to draw people to Escondido…we’d like to see this get completed and have it be the best experience possible for people in our city.”