By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Immune until recently from the rapid growth that swept through North Park and Little Italy over the past decade, developers have set their sights on Bankers Hill with two major housing-retail projects in the works, plus another that was completed in June.
Broadstone Balboa Park was the first to materialize. It is also one of the few luxury housing projects in the neighborhood that caters only to renters. Located at 3288 Fifth Ave., the six-floor complex boasts 100 apartments in a wide variety of floor plans, plus 14 penthouse units and two refurbished bungalows that originally occupied the lot.
The monthly rents range from $2,000 to $6,500, which is in step with the high-dollar value of living in an area long famous for its moneyed residents and architecturally varied houses dating to the late 1800s.
Much of Broadstone’s interior was designed by acclaimed San Diego-based craftsman Paul Basile, who chose a Prohibition-era theme to honor the area’s rich history.
The lobby, for example, includes a library with wooden book shelves supported by metal train-car wheels. The mail room resembles an old bank vault, and the second-floor clubhouse — rigged with beer taps, a full kitchen and huge steel-framed doors leading to an outdoor Jacuzzi and fireplaces — is aptly named “Club 421.” The number corresponds to the time of day Prohibition officially ended, at 4:21 p.m., on Dec. 5, 1933.
The structure — which also features two communal rooftop patios, one with an Evo circular cooktop — marks the fourth Broadstone venture in San Diego. The others are located in Little Italy, Coronado and Kearny Mesa, and with two more in the pipeline for North Park and East Village.
According to business manager Jamie Maas, the units in Broadstone Balboa Park are 75 percent occupied. The developers, Alliance Residential and Clarion Partners, will eventually lease out an additional 6,052 square feet of ground-level space designated for retailers.
“We’re looking at all options – salons, bakeries, restaurants and wine bars,” she said. Slated to be the tallest among the emerging crop of new condominium buildings in Bankers Hill is The Park, a 60-unit structure that will rise to 14 floors when it’s completed in spring 2017.
“The project is designed to compliment the community,” said Brad Termini, co-CEO for Zephyr, which mapped out the concept for a unique mix of condos and town homes that will each feature impressive terraces and balconies affixed to units measuring no less than 2,300 square feet.
Located adjacent to Balboa Park, at 2855 Fifth Ave., buyers will enjoy such amenities as gourmet kitchens, private wine storage, concierge service and a state-of-the-art fitness center. Two retail spaces have been incorporated into the $100 million master plan, which Termini said will afford residents “suburban-style living in a vertical, urban atmosphere.”
The units start at $1.4 million, and some have already been pre-sold based on virtual tours provided at the company’s “Discovery Center” at 3104 Fourth Ave.
The neighborhood’s growth spurt, which also includes an upcoming seven-story condo structure called Vue on 5th, located at 2665 Fifth Ave., has received warm receptions from two active players in the community.
“There’s room in Bankers Hill for all kinds of different architecture,” said Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organisation, which organizes walking tours of the area the third Sunday of every month. Coons is content that the new developments “are not infringing on the sensitive pockets of the neighborhood,” referring to the smaller streets lined with Victorian, Craftsman, Tudor Revival and other vintage homes.His concern with the added density, however, is whether the neighborhood’s infrastructure can handle the influx of new residents.
“We have to be careful with large developments in making sure upgrades have been made to things like electrical wires, sewer systems and roads,” Coons said.
Jake Sutton, administrator of Bankers Hill Business Group, believes the Park Laurel condo development, built in 2005 at Sixth Avenue and Laurel Street, ultimately spurred the recent housing projects.
“I’ve worked in Bankers Hill for the past 10 years, and these are exciting times,” Sutton said. “I’ve talked to a lot of business owners who feel these latest developments are positive for our district. More residents and businesses will result in a more vibrant community.”
At Vue on 5th, due to open in early summer, the entire ground floor is reserved for retail. This will add potential fuel to the business scene and add to the walkability of the neighborhood.
“We’re not sure yet if we’ll use any of it for a restaurant, but we have three commercial spaces, plus underground parking for customers and residents,” said Briar Belair of ColRich, the company that broke ground last year before recently completing the framework on the 40-unit building.
ColRich has since begun conducting “hard hat” tours of the structure, which features five two-level penthouse suites starting at $1.8 million as well as two and three-bedroom units starting in the $700,000 range. Built-in refrigerators, free-standing soaking tubs and balconies with stacking door systems are among the choice amenities.
Belair said 15 residences in the Vue on 5th have been sold.
The sales reps from each project cite a mixed demographic of buyers and renters interested in their properties, noting that about half of them are young and middle-aged professionals from the tech and medical industries.
Yet even without these chic habitats sprouting up within this once-quiet zone nestled between Downtown and Hillcrest, Coons said the appeal of living in Bankers Hill isn’t something new.
“There’s a strong character to the neighborhood that has attracted residents all along,” he said. “It’s an obvious place to put more density, as long as that character is preserved and respected at the same time.”
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.