SAN MARCOS — As local dignitaries ceremoniously moved dirt with shovels on a plot of ground south of San Marcos Boulevard, crews on an adjacent plot were busy working around the wooden frame of an under-construction apartment complex.
The two developments signal the beginning of construction inside what is known as the Creek District, the city’s long-awaited and highly anticipated downtown district.
Officials on July 30 celebrated the groundbreaking of Eastgate, a 42-unit affordable apartment complex unit that will have 7,200 square feet of retail space and at least six live-work units.
Three months ago, many of the same county, city and regional officials celebrated the groundbreaking of the first Creekside project, Promenade Creekside, another affordable development, which when finished will have 106 units and 20,000 square feet of retail space.
“These projects are a great step forward in generating the momentum of making the Creekside District a reality,” City spokeswoman Sarah MacDonald said. “It’s an exciting time.”
Officials for decades have envisioned the mile-long stretch south of San Marcos between Grand Avenue and Discovery Street as the downtown that the city has lacked, with a mix of housing, retail establishments, parkland and open space transforming the area.
Most cities in North San Diego County have well established downtown districts, which were the original town settlements. San Marcos, however, does not have a traditional downtown district.
The city’s creekside plan calls for the creation of a new circulation road, Creekside Drive, that will run parallel to San Marcos Boulevard, turning the stretch of twin roads into the city’s center and will also serve to link that area to the city’s University District, MacDonald said.
The City Council in 2007 approved the plans, which call for a 214-acre shopping and housing district, with 73 acres set aside for a habitat preserve.
Once built out — which is expected to take 20 years — the Creekside District will contain about 2,300 residential units, 1.2 million square feet of retail space and 590,000 square feet of office space.
The city reached out to several developers — including Affirmed, which was looking to develop affordable housing in the city — and directed them toward the Creekside District.
Construction was scheduled to begin in 2012, but the state’s cessation of local redevelopment agencies delayed work, which relied on the coveted state funding to push construction along.
While the improving economy has allowed for some of the work to now begin, officials said, affordable housing is seen as a good way to kick start market rate development.
“It is not unusual to see redevelopment sparked by affordable housing,” said Chris Earl, senior project manager for Affirmed Housing, which is developing Eastgate. “The benefits are that government funds support the development.”
The two affordable developments could be completed as early as 2018, during which time the city will also commence several key infrastructure projects that are expected to further spur development — the creation of two bridges across San Marcos Creek at Bent Avenue and Via Vera Cruz, and the widening of Discovery Street in San Marcos.
The city expects to start that construction in Fall 2016.