By Ken Williams | Editor
As long as a decade ago, a running joke was that you might get “caught dead” in North Park. The once-thriving retail hub, devastated by the building of the shopping malls in Mission Valley, had become so run-down and crime-ridden that businesses and people were moving out in droves. But some folks envisioned a bright future for North Park, and things slowly began changing for the better.
Fast forward to 2015, and North Park is now hailed nationwide as one of America’s 10 best hipster neighborhoods. From Forbes magazine to the Los Angeles Times, glowing reviews tout the miraculous turnaround that has occurred in North Park with raves about its craft beer tasting rooms, trendy restaurants, boutique shopping, a growing arts scene centered around Ray Street, historical homes, and its diverse population.
These days, North Park is beginning to rival Little Italy, the Gaslamp and East Village as a place to go to enjoy the good things in life. And at North Park Main Street — a private nonprofit organization charged with the revitalization of the North Park Business Improvement District (BID) — the team is determined to capitalize on all this positive momentum by launching a social media campaign under the hashtag #ExploreNorthPark.
“North Park is well-known and loved by the locals. It’s easy to see the businesses packed with bicyclists, families walking to dinner and bustling sidewalk cafes loaded with familiar faces,” said Angela Landsberg, executive director of North Park Main Street.
“I started thinking that North Park was a gem that needed to be more exposed, so I applied for a grant to Economic Development & Tourism through the city of San Diego. Our goal with this grant was to market North Park to visitors who come to San Diego and are staying in hotels but looking to explore an historic urban community. We also wanted to appeal those who are looking for a weekend trip from the Southern California region.”
After winning the city grant, North Park Main Street set up a website (explorenorthpark.com) and created a full-color brochure listing restaurants, bars, brew pubs and boutiques within the BID area, which roughly covers University Avenue between Utah Street and 32nd Street, and 30th Street between Polk Avenue and Upas Street.
The website has nine pages under the titles of Explore, Art, Eat, Drink, Shop & Boutiques, Events, Visit, History and News. Even North Park natives may learn something new on these pages.
The pièce de résistance, though, is a full-color, 128-page Explore North Park magazine that showcases everything that makes North Park such a popular destination.
The magazine includes a welcome from District 3 Councilmember Todd Gloria, who writes: “The past two decades have seen tremendous investment and positive change in the historical neighborhood of North Park. Its unique offerings continue to develop and change and are worth exploration and celebration.”
Toni G. Atkins, Speaker of the California Assembly and a South Park resident, also has a message for those who pick up the magazine.
“The incredible transformation and revitalization of North Park has been underway for nearly two decades now. The boom in independent boutiques and vibrant restaurants, nightspots, galleries and performance venues such as the North Park Theatre [now known as Observatory North Park] draw visitors from all over San Diego and provide a huge boost to the regional economy,” Atkins writes.
“There was a time when changes in demographics and land-use decisions had altered the fortunes of North Park. Businesses closed and some areas fell into disrepair. But people who love this community devoted themselves to reviving it, ushering in a renaissance that has infused the neighborhood with new energy.”
Atkins also pays tribute to the hipster neighborhood and its newfound reputation as the suds capital.
“And North Park plays a major role in San Diego’s love affair with craft breweries that Men’s Journal magazine declared 30th Street ‘clearly the nation’s best beer boulevard.’”
The goal, Landsberg said, is simple: “Bring tourists to North Park.”
Besides participating in social media efforts, North Park fans are also urged to keep visiting the website. “It is constantly being updated with new blogs, interviews with interesting North Park celebs, and up-to-date info on events in North Park,” she said.
Landsberg hopes the social media campaign continues to grow as awareness spreads.
“We encourage all North Park businesses to use the hashtag #ExploreNorthPark on their posts as well as share details on their events. We are gathering a lot of new followers especially on Instagram,” she said. “Hotel concierges, travel agencies — yes they still exist — and some popular travel publications are also taking a look at what we are doing with Explore social media.”
The avalanche of positive news stories about North Park in the national media over the past two years has impacted the community.
“People who travel want to explore a city,” Landsberg said, “and while the beaches, Little Italy and Gaslamp are great places, it’s always nice to have an alternative to the usual suspects. A historic urban community with tons of great food, craft beer, distinct shops and a diverse population is a big draw for many, many people. We want them to come to North Park!”
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and Mission Valley News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at KenSanDiego, Instagram account at KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.