“It’s opening Friday?” Drempko said when a reporter told her of the imminent opening. “That’s great.”
Starbucks will be the first store to open its doors in the long-awaited San Elijo Town Center, the 5-acre retail and residential hub in the center of the San Elijo Hills.
Residents have waited for 15 years after multiple false starts and a recession that snuffed out dreams of the completion of the community’s core, turning it into a fenced-off field full of weeds.
Today, however, workers are busy putting the finishing touches on the 34,000-square-foot retail center that anchors the first part of the second phase of the town center: 11 businesses, including the aforementioned Starbucks, a CycleBar indoor cycling franchise, Lourdes Mexican Food and a dental chain.
“It’s really gratifying to finally get to this point, but more importantly, it’s a big win for the community,” said Duncan Budinger, the director of retail development for Ambient Communities, the project developer. “They have waited a long time for this.”
San Elijo Hills, the suburban enclave at the southern tip of San Marcos, sprouted in 2000 with the first homes going for sale. It’s now home to nearly 9,000 people and more than 3,000 homes and condominium units.
The Town Center, which is the unofficial “downtown” of the San Marcos community, currently includes a grocery store, gas station and bank, as well as retail units on the ground floor of mixed-used developments.
The last portion of the center that was finished was the gas station in 2008, but efforts to complete the Town Center stalled as a result of the recession, which ground much of the county’s retail development to a halt.
Budinger said that while residents enjoyed the grocery store and shops that lined either side of San Elijo Road, the vacant five acres rendered the community incomplete.
“It was missing a heart,” Budinger said. “It was missing a place to unite the community and give them ‘their place.’”
As the economy rebounded, the community’s developer, San Elijo Hills Development Co., began to show signs of resuming the project. First, in late 2015, a message on the company’s website said that it was working with a proven retail developer and moving forward with the second phase.
Then, nearly two years later, the city and developer confirmed that they would be breaking ground in late 2017, to the surprise of skeptical residents.
“I know there has been skepticism. I hope to cure that in a few weeks as we start creating dust and showing people what a great project this is,” Budinger said in 2017 in the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We fully believe we are going to meet or exceed the expectations of the community.”
The decade-long gap between the completion of the earlier phase and the current phase gave the developer a chance to retool the design to make it more walkable and more of a destination.
“We didn’t want it to be another strip mall,” Budinger said. “The updated design put an emphasis on open space and common areas, and every building is unique. I think the community is going to embrace it.”
Following Starbucks, the dental office will open on July 20, CycleBar will open July 26 and Lourdes, Everbowl and a third restaurant will follow in August.
The project also includes 12 townhomes on an adjacent pad being developed by Hallmark Communities.