By Ken Williams | Editor
News that Target is reportedly negotiating to lease the vacant Wang’s North Park building is further evidence that the boom in the North Park neighborhood is far from over.
San Diego Uptown News has learned from three reliable sources that Target officials have been testing the neighborhood’s interest in having the retail giant bring a smaller Target Express store to North Park.
Target officials from the company’s Minnesota headquarters did not respond by deadline to two requests made over the past week to comment.
Finding a tenant for the historic Wang’s building — built in 1942 at 3029 University Ave. as a J.C. Penney department store — has been the No. 1 priority for North Park officials since the restaurant folded in May 2015. Wang’s spent $1.75 million to renovate the building that was vacant from 2008 until the restaurant opened in January 2012.
“This is the building that prior to Wang’s hosted Big Lots (Pick n’ Save), REI, and J.C. Penney,” said René A. Vidales, chair of the North Park Planning Committee (NPPC).
Vidales and NPPC board member Peter Hill are among those who confirmed the rumor that Target is expected to lease the 40,000-square-foot building.
Hill discussed NPPC’s role in the community and mentioned Target’s plans during the public portion of the monthly meeting of the board of directors of the North Park Community Association on Oct. 25.
This summer, Target officials briefed the North Park Main Street (NPMS) board about their plans for the site.
And on Aug. 10, 10News reported about the North Park Main Street meeting with Target officials. At the time, 10News said the company was still in a “fact finding phase.”
The 10News report then inspired a public discussion on reddit.com, getting mostly positive responses. One commenter wrote: “You’ll bemoan it now, but you’ll shop there. Wait till you run out of toilet paper on a Sunday afternoon. South Park can testify to this.” Another commenter posted: “While I would rather have something that is not a huge chain, there are only so many things that could thrive in such a large space like that. Wang’s has been closed for a couple years and that building sits empty with bums making fort-like nests around it all the time. At this point I would welcome Target with open arms.”
Angela Landsberg, executive director of North Park Main Street, confirmed that Target officials spoke to the NPMS board.
“The item was discussion and information only,” she said. “We did not take a vote to support or deny support for the business. However, the board has been very happy with the effort that Target has made to connect with the community and share information as well as their concern for the small businesses nearby who may be impacted by their presence in North Park.”
Target officials plan to make a presentation to the North Park Planning Committee, “likely to be in January,” Vidales said. This may be the first chance for residents to hear about Target’s plans and comment on their proposal.
Since the building is already zoned for retail use, Target is not required to appear before the NPPC. But if the company seeks a conditional-use permit to sell beer, wine and alcohol — which they do at the Target Express in South Park — then Target would need to come to the NPPC to get a recommendation, Vidales said.
Hill told Uptown News that he has been informed that Target wants to apply for a liquor license in North Park. Some community activists are opposed to new liquor licenses, arguing that North Park is already saturated as the neighborhood is becoming the craft beer capital of San Diego.
Another potential issue is parking, since the building doesn’t have a parking lot.
“They’ll be using the two parking lots on Grim Avenue between University Avenue and North Park Way,” Vidales said. “Those two parking lots are currently paid parking lots.”
Landsberg added: “The hope is that this store will draw many of the locals who bike and walk in the area. There will also be dedicated parking in the lots directly behind the store. And let’s not forget the 400 spaces in the parking garage that are less than two blocks away.”
Both Landsberg and Vidales said the addition of a Target Express would be a good thing for North Park.
“Our organization looks forward to the positive impacts of more foot traffic and the additional shoppers that will come to the area to shop at Target,” Landsberg said. “After all, this space was once a J.C. Penney’s and North Park is and was a shopping district.”
Vidales said a Target Express will fill a void in the neighborhood.
“Target will be an option for items that cannot be found in a nearby grocery store or a pharmacy chain,” he said. “In addition, they will stay open later than Barons or Smart & Final, giving residents another choice.
“They will liven up the neighborhood by activating a portion of a block that is currently empty and dark at night, plus it’s been more than two and a half years since Wang’s closed its doors and we need to bring that big 1950s building back to life, which is part of the historic fabric of the University Avenue business corridor in North Park.”
Several historical buildings remain shuttered along University Avenue.
“Woolworths is still running the course with the outfall of redevelopment, International Discount Fashions has a new lease and hopefully will be filled in the coming months, and Ramona Theater is continuing to speak with prospective tenants,” Landsberg said.
The F.W. Woolworth building, located at 3067-3075 University Ave. at Illinois Street, is boarded up and remains in limbo after getting caught up in the legal mess involving the redevelopment dissolution process. The city’s former Redevelopment Agency was dissolved by the courts, and city-owned properties like the Woolworth building wait for the court to approve their disposition.
The International Discount Fashions building, on the highly visible northeast corner of University Avenue and 30th Street, is currently an eyesore because homeless people camp out under its broad awning. The name of the new leaseholder is unknown at this time.
The Ramona Theater’s seats and movie projection system have been removed and the interior has been gutted on both levels.
Meanwhile, many other construction projects point to the vibrancy that is North Park.
Nomad Donuts recently opened after remodeling the former Lady of the Lake bookstore and gift shop at 3102 University Ave.
Billoury LLC plans to open a craft brewery at the former Abundance Grace Christian Center at 3117 University Ave.
Rise & Shine Restaurant Group plans to convert the former Animal House Pet Shop, 2726 University Ave, into a new restaurant concept called Pizza Republic California. They operate the popular Breakfast Republic located next door.
Solomon Bagels & Donuts is expected to open by year’s end at 4152 30th St., across from Vons.
Drive down El Cajon Boulevard, between Park Boulevard and 30th Street, and you will notice six large housing developments going up in the transit corridor.
What does this say about North Park?
“The Mid-City area has a lot to offer,” Landsberg said, “and it’s only just begun!”
—To read more about the historical Wang’s building, read Katherine Hon’s Past Matters column at bit.ly/2xXCcCC.