Combination of Public and Private Funds Fueling Construction Boom in East County City
You can’t go from one end of Lemon Grove to another without seeing the telltale signs of a virtual construction boom. There are so many construction projects going on right now in this East County city of 25,000, just 10 miles east of downtown San Diego, that you’d think the recession was over and things were … well, rosier than they are.
Yet in Lemon Grove, there are half a dozen construction projects in process, exhibiting the fact that both public and private money are at work here. And on top of that, city officials broke ground yesterday at a ceremony welcoming yet another project – the promenade and park centered around the city’s primary trolley station, just next to Main Street and Broadway.
Let’s take a quick look at all these projects.
At the southwest corner of the very busy Massachusetts and Broadway intersection, Walgreen Pharmacy is financing a new facility. I spoke briefly to superintendent Andy Dipalma of Savant Construction while inside his trailer. Being somewhat distrusting of strangers wandering through his site, Andy told me that the new pharmacy should be completed in September of this year. He estimated that the project employed about 45 people – bringing jobs to this sector of the economy.
Mr. Dipalma wasn’t divulging any numbers on how much was being spent on the new building. “I have no idea,” he claimed. Plus I failed to ask him why Walgreen was building a pharmacy right across the street from two other major pharmacies – CVS – which is directly across Broadway, and Rite-Aid – which is on the opposite corner on the other side of the intersection – one of the busiest in the city. This is what they do, I’ve been told.
Next up on my tour of construction projects in Lemon Grove was the brand new church in the making at the corner of Central and Main Streets, a massive two or three story place. Bob, the foreman on site, was much more friendly than the last foreman. He told me that the pastor George Linzey would be happen to talk to me about details of the site. After shooting some photos, I was about to get into my car and call Mr. Linzey when he drove up and parked right in front of me.
Pastor Linzey was all too happy to discuss his new Congregational place of worship. The church is spending $4 million he told me and he expects it to be ready by the middle or end of September 2012. George went on … even though when completed, the church will only seat 55, it will have three manual pipe organs, stain glass windows, two kitchens, plus a man-made lagoon. In fact, the pastor informed me, the church will be known as “The Lagoon”.
It will be the most expensive church in San Diego per pew, George said. Plus the church – which has been located over on Glebe Road – will become the City of Lemon Grove’s church as the city will be able to use its facilities for free. In fact, Linzey said, it was the Lemon Grove Community Church – his church – that founded Lemon Grove in the first place, back in 1892. The Reverend Atherton had founded the largest Protestant church in East County when he brought together the 36 residents of the town. And for 120 years it held this mantle.
“We have a very diverse congregation,” Pastor Linzey said, “as about one third are former Catholics.” Linzey has been the pastor for 11 years of this Lemon Grove church, and he told me he was the former Senior Protestant Chaplin at the US Naval Academy. I thanked him and told him I would see him later that day at the ground-breaking for the new Lemon Grove Promenade.
New Affordable Housing Apartments
Moving over to projects that are funded with at least some public monies, I visited the site of a large, two-story apartment building under construction at the corner of North Street and Main Street, right off the freeway. It is being built by Citron in partnership with Lemon Grove’s former redevelopment agency. It will have – when done – 58 affordable housing units, with open space, a tots lot, and lots of creativity unleashed by the architect.
Speaking briefly with Ginger Hitzke, the developer, I could tell she was obviously very excited about what was going on. Her company will also be building another affordable housing apartment complex – this one with 80 units – right in what’s now the vacant lot that will butt up against the new Promenade, and very close to the other building currently being built. She expects the second apartment complex ground-breaking in April of 2013.
Across the trolley tracks and over a block from them is another construction project going on. This one is the joint community and public school library being built at the corner of Lincoln Street and School Lane. The neo-Spanish colonial architectural style for this structure can be viewed in the drawing on the placard installed behind the wire fence. Steel and wood structures are going up almost daily on this site. Paid for by funds from Prop W which was passed by voters recently, approximately $10 million is being spent for this corner project. Also included are upgrades of science labs, a new turn-about for parents dropping off their kids, and a variety of other smaller improvements.
Gina Potter of the Lemon Grove School District assured me that the school itself – closed now for two school years – will be opening in September even though the library itself won’t be completed until early 2013. Once completed, there will probably be some kind of barriers so the school kids won’t be mixing with community patrons of the library.
Once ready, this library should be a state-of-the-art place for the community – long denied an established site for their valuable public facility. Residents of Lemon Grove have been waiting for their library for years and now finally it’s within their grasp. Lemon Grove councilmember George Gastil told me, “the library is the big project. The city helped the school district get through all the zoning,” he said, explaining his city’s role in it.
The Lemon Grove Promenade
At about 3pm yesterday – the 19th of July – Lemon Grove city officials gathered with supporters and friends to usher in the building of the Lemon Grove Promenade. After a few speeches – City Council members grabbed shovels and dug the ritual dirt in the project’s ground-breaking. The diggers included Mayor Mary Sessom, councilmembers George Gastil, Jerry Jones, Mary England, and Howard Cook.
The Promenade is being funded with $4.9 million of public funds, $1.2 million of it coming from SANDAG. The section of Main Street that parallels the trolley tracks will be torn up, with pathways, an amphitheater, mosaic tiled centerpieces, a park, and a plaza all replacing the street. It will also include a playground, restrooms, a shuffleboard, brightly-colored paving, rows of foliage and power-generating solar panels built to resemble trees. Two windmills will be installed – Mayor Sessom promised, the project will generate electricity, it will save water, and it will spur development in the area. “It creates a place”, Mayor Sessom declared, “a place for the people of Lemon Grove to gather.” A round-about off the new road to be built is also part of the plan. Ribbon cutting for the project is planned for early February 2013. But what about parking, I thought? Where is all the parking for the new promenade and the park? I could not find any parking in the sparse diagrams presented on the project for the public. This could be a problem, but I’m certain someone has thought about the issue.
As the dignitaries spoke and dug up some ground, over next to the trolley tracks, workers finished up the improvements that have been made at the trolley station. The platform had to be raised two inches to meet the floors of the new trolleys, plus light fixtures, new benches and roofs are still to be installed. This then was another local project, although funded by MTS and not just for Lemon Grove.
How Did Lemon Grove Do It?
It is just staggering realizing all this construction going on in Lemon Grove. Millions are being spent – dozens if not hundreds of workers are being employed across the town on these projects. A new pharmacy, a new church, a new community library, new affordable housing, and the new promenade all signal an upturn in the economy in this diverse city just east of downtown San Diego. If the rest of the County and State would model themselves after Lemon Grove – we would definitely be heading out of the Great Recession.
How did this tiny city do it? Well, I was told by more than one official that Lemon Grove is a gutsy town and knows how to go after and stretch those dollars. Yes, indeed.
This article originally appeared at San Diego Free Press.