ESCONDIDO — It is a grand plan and the City Council is all in.
It will also cost millions, but the long-term payoff for residents and quality of life is priceless, Councilman John Masson said.
He reintroduced the proposal for a “Central Park” during last week’s council meeting as the five policy makers discussed renovating or relocating the Escondido Library.
Masson was so pumped up he started by quoting rapper Eminem and continued by saying this will change the look of downtown, redevelopment will explode and businesses will flock to the area.
“In 20 years, we will be off the Richter scale,” Masson said. “I kind of revived an older idea the community had brought forward. We got one shot to go to the community to get the bond, so we might as well throw everything we can into it and go for it.”
The plan, meanwhile, is simple in its vision, yet complex in the execution. Of course, this is a preliminary thought of what the park could be, not a final plan.
It begins by extending Grape Day Park north to West Washington Avenue with bridges over Escondido Creek connecting the north and south sides. A brand new, state-of-the-art library, or “innovation center” as Masson called it, would be constructed on the northwest corner of West Washington Avenue and Escondido Boulevard.
The facility would include a community room, café, tower, terrace and all the bells and whistles to draw residents and groups to the library.
At the northeast corner of Broadway and West Washington Avenue would be a community gymnasium and pool, so high school swimming and water polo teams could host home meets and matches, plus swim lessons and more for residents.
Just to the south would be the home of the Escondido Boys & Girls Club.
Other amenities include a promenade and garden, parking structure, restaurant/outdoor dining, a pond and a new tree median along Broadway.
“If I’m going to sell a bond and convince the city, then it needs to be in Grape Day Park … throw in a competition pool if that’s what we want,” Masson explained. “We need to go big right out of the gate. We got one shot at this thing, one shot at floating the bond.”
The vision for the project came to light nearly a decade ago, but the Great Recession put plans on hold. Now, with the city’s credit ratings high, the council is brimming with excitement to pitch and sell the idea to the community.
Of course, the big question is cost, but to Masson, it doesn’t matter because of revenue it could bring in after construction. Still, he said the city would ask the voters to support a bond measure, while Mayor Sam Abed said adding private partnerships would probably also be required.
To be clear, no bond measure is on the Nov. 8 ballot. Also, no cost projections have been disclosed or discussed, although the library cost estimates have ranged from $30 million to $55 million.
With a park expansion, the total will rise, but will not be known until the city researches the proposal in further detail.
“Instead of expanding the library, why not build a new library?” Masson said. “I’ve been meeting with Ken Anderson and his group and their vision of expanding the park, building a new library and making a new civic center node. I thought, ‘You know what, that’s what we should be doing.’”
The timeline, however, is several years away. Masson said if everything goes to plan, it is possible to see the Escondido Central Park by the first or second quarter of 2019.
However, it’s a big if considering the city must enter into discussions with current retail businesses and a gas station along the south side of West Washington Avenue about relocation and acquisition of the land.
“It’s a visionary project,” said Councilwoman Olga Diaz. “The library here makes sense and rounds out the whole campus. Compare it to Central Park in New York City as a draw for weddings, recreation, photo shoots, sports (and other activities).”
Abed, meanwhile, agreed the project is a priority for the city, but questioned the location of the library.
As a way to promote downtown growth and revitalization, he said it would be better to have the library closer to Grand Avenue and to capitalize on the synergy.
There were two sites proposed for the library, one on the current northwest corner of Woodward Avenue and Escondido Boulevard with the second across the street on West Washington Avenue.
“I would like to see it closer to Grape Day Park,” Abed said. “Site one is closer. Site two is getting away from the activities and the heart of downtown.”
Still, Abed is in favor of expanding the park and exploring the possibilities.
But, he, along with the other council members, said a massive community outreach effort would be needed before the city can begin construction.
The biggest reason, he said, is the bond measure will need to pass by a two-thirds vote from residents.
“We want to see the Chamber (of Commerce), public meetings and the Rotary Club,” Abed said of gathering input and opinions. “We want people to look at the vision before moving forward.”
Councilman Mike Morasco, meanwhile, said a competition swimming pool is another great amenity, along with the educational components of the library.
“We need a competitive pool,” he added. “This is what will help bring that to fruition.
The property to the north, possibly for development, is amazingly better with this expansion of the park.”
Fellow Councilman Ed Gallo said the first step is to put out a request for qualifications from developers to figure out who can handle a project of this size and scope.