Last November, San Diego’s city council unanimously voted to adopt an ambitious new community plan for Kearny Mesa. It paints a vision of Convoy Street for mixed-use development, inviting new architecture to house 50,000 new residents who will walk or bike to work, and easy access to the rest of the city with a new trolley line that extends to the San Ysidro border crossing.
The plan’s supporters hope to emulate the renaissance of Little Italy as a walkable, livable, postcard-perfect picture of an ethnic community. One that celebrates the Asian identity behind the shops and restaurants that have worked a quarter century to make Convoy a culinary destination. And if all goes well, Convoy’s transformation will be complete… in another quarter century. Or, at latest, by the plan’s stated goal of 2050.
For now, the long process begins with the more immediate needs of the Convoy Pan Asian Cultural and Business Innovation District.
That designation was also unanimously approved by the city council last fall. It codifies Convoy’s stature alongside neighborhoods like Little Italy, North Park, and University Heights, and approves the building of a gateway arch welcoming guests to Convoy’s commercial center.
That will require $500,000 in private funds that have yet to be raised, and will still likely be the first concrete change to the neighborhood. While the new community plan has both stakeholders and investors optimistic about a bright future, in the near term Kearny Mesa faces the same infrastructure problems that have plagued it for years: crumbling streets, parking shortages, and a lack of pedestrian connectivity.
Convoy was never zoned to handle the demands of a restaurant district—it was built to be an industrial employment hub. And though nearly 100,000 people work there, fewer than 12,000 actually live there, which hasn’t exactly put it at the front of the line for city improvement projects.
So, with no constituents to complain about potholes, Convoy’s small business community has picked up the slack through organizations including the Asian Business Association of San Diego (ABASD) and Convoy District Partnership. With support from Chris Cate, the city’s first Asian American councilmember in half a century, they have secured the community more of a say in its own future.
“A few years ago, there were virtually no Asians on the Kearny Mesa planning group,” says Wesley Quach, former manager of the Convoy District Partnership and current program manager with ABASD. “That’s changed in the past five years. We were able to get a few Convoy people on that board.”
However, improvements have still been slow. Though more than 1,700 miles of San Diego streets have been repaved over the past five years, most of Kearny Mesa is still waiting. Water pipe replacement projects along Convoy Street and Clairemont Mesa Boulevard have to be completed first, and even when they are, it will be next summer at the earliest before any gateway arch spans fully resurfaced streets.
For the sort of investment needed to fulfill Convoy’s potential, more people will need to live there. And that’s why all eyes appear focused on private redevelopment. Lately, that means 13.7 acres of Kearny Mesa real estate recently bought by Hammer Ventures, a real estate firm that specializes in mixed-use developments. Among their new holdings is the lot at the intersection of Convoy Street and Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, currently home to Zion Market.
The Korean grocery store will eventually move to a nearby lot to make way for the new Hammer development. At that point, how closely the developer’s vision aligns with the community plan may set the character for the neighborhood going forward.
“My dream scenario is a park big enough to support a night market,” Quach says, referring to the wildly popular event that attracts 15,000 foodies to the area each summer (and should return to Convoy in 2022).
A new aquatic center, trolley stations, pedestrian plazas, and the like may start showing up as soon as 2035. But until these urban design dreams come true, we’ve still got the Convoy Street we’ve grown to love: crumbling, crowded, and always surprising us with something new to eat.