What’s Happening At Horton? Come Along On A Walk-Through Tour

See what’s in store, what’s not coming back and find out if the former mall’s parking predicament is fixable
A rendering of Horton, now slated to open in Summer 2024. (Courtesy of Stockdale Capital Partners LLC)

Downtowners are supremely curious about the fate of the one-million square-foot former Horton Plaza site in San Diego’s Marina District.

The disjointedly designed mall that once revolutionized urban shopping was shuttered in 2020. Like many American malls, it suffered from an exodus of both shoppers and retailers.

The completion date for a $1-billion renovation by Stockdale Capital Partners LLC has been pushed several times.

Stockdale director of culture programs Jimmy Parker says the new opening date for a mixed-used site of office space and ground-floor retail is now pegged for Summer of 2024.

Parker’s name should sound familiar. He’s been with Stockdale for five years; before that, 20 years with the Gaslamp Quarter Association and 22 years involved with the downtown Street Scene music festival. 

He’s a civic resource. And a peerless schmoozer. Parker affixes a welcome sign with my name and the San Diego Sun logo on the bright pink door that leads to Stockdale’s on-site headquarters.

My two-hour tour of the construction site is with Parker and two key project officials: RDC senior principal Sean Slater (architecture) and Introba principal Calina Ferraro (sustainable systems).

The exclusive attention is an honor…until Parker estimates he’s done close to 300 group tours of what used to be Horton Plaza and is now simply called Horton.

C’est la vie. It’s still a special opportunity. 

I was a regular when the mall was still alive. My wardrobe was culled almost exclusively from the first-floor racks at Macy’s. This walk-through during Horton’s transition time is cathartic. It’s an opportunity to compare old memories with the bones of what’ll service the next generation. 

We’re walking from Fourth Avenue (where the Balboa Theater is still in place) to First Avenue (still the site of the Westin San Diego Gaslamp):

The interior of Horton Plaza, circa 1985. (Courtesy of Stockdale Capital Partners LLC)

History. When it opened in 1985, the five-level Horton Plaza was a $140-million redevelopment project run by The Hahn Company. The architectural design of Jon Jerde (loosely based on an essay by sci-fi superstar Ray Bradbury) was radical and wildly asymmetrical. The mall was an instant financial success.

Come & go. Big-box retailers that occupied the mall included: Sam Goody, Planet Hollywood, FAO Schwarz, Mervyn’s, Robinsons-May, Banana Republic, Victoria’s Secret and Nordstrom, among others.

Stockdale in the picture. The mall was sold in 2018 to Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm Stockdale Capital Partners. Renovations were delayed until 2020 when Macy’s finally closed its doors. The three-story former Macy’s interior is now being used as a storage site during construction.

Horton Park. A new Horton Park (at the corner of Broadway and Fourth Avenue) will get three new eateries. Out: The burger place, Starbucks and ice cream store. In: Three as-yet-named concepts that will all have sit-down patios.

  • Gone: The dancing water fountain. In its place: Shade trees.
  • A fenced dog run will be installed on the Fourth Avenue side of the park.
  • The Bradley Building (with the big blue moth mural) will get a mini food hall. Planned: Seven or eight quick-casual restaurant incubator spaces that will be swapped out regularly.
  • The park will be open daily to the public from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
In front of the Horton Park site, tour hosts Calina Ferraro, Sean Slater and Jimmy Parker.

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Lyceum Theater. The underground theater will be revived as a theatrical space. It’ll get a new, prominent entrance. Parker says more than one theater company will likely get use of the theater. Recall that The Rep went out of business before Horton construction began.

  • The multi-colored, 36-foot-tall Joan Brown obelisk that marked the old Lyceum’s underground entrance is in storage. It needs restoration. The monument was found to have interior rust damage. It likely would have fallen over had it not been taken down. 

Moving pictures. A movie theater space is still available at Horton, but Parker says theater companies aren’t in a rush to move in. Premium movie theater The Lot is not in expansion mode, though Parker says one high-end theater brand is looking at the site.

Horton interior. All the crisscross walkways from the old mall interior have been cleared out. Called the Campus at Horton, you can now see from one end to the other.

  • There are spots reserved for trees on the Campus walkway. A 30-foot twin-trunk oak tree will be prominent. There are also plans for Western Sycamore and olive trees.
  • Stockdale has not announced retailers to date, though some announcements are expected in August. Stay tuned.
  • A pocket park will be created along the Campus. It’s currently referred to as “The Eddy” and will be programmable for concerts and other entertainment.
The current state of Horton’s interior.

Grocery & gym. The two-floor space near First Avenue that was occupied by Jimbo’s is likely going to have two new tenants: a grocery store (that’s not direct competition to the Ralphs across the street) and a fitness concept.

  • 24 Hour Fitness used to be on the ground floor of the Nordstrom building, but that’s not the gym coming to Horton. Again, stay tuned.
  • Nope, I asked point blank and Trader Joe’s is not moving in. Sigh.

Life sciences. The five-story Nordstrom building is now 10 stories tall. This is where Class A life science offices are being built, along with two ready-to-go lab spaces.

  • Horton’s commitment to sustainability practices is reportedly highly attractive to life science companies with “environmental and social governance goals.”
  • The sustainability features in place at Horton are compelling enough to warrant a separate story. Look for that in The Sun in the near future.
  • The life science building will have 24/7 VIP access to the 2,200-space garage.
In the bowels of the old mall, a relic sign pointing out former Horton Plaza tenants.

Finally, that parking predicament. Nearly everyone will recall the Horton Plaza parking structure as a confusing, maze-like hot mess. The diagonal floor levels made it needlessly difficult to find your parked car. Parker (no pun intended) says it’s being solved.

  • The garage floors will no longer be named after vegetables. When Horton opens, the floors will be designated as 1 East, 1 West; 2 East, 2 West. And so on.
  • Horton will have three new elevators. They’re situated near the center of the Campus. The buttons inside the elevators will be labeled: 1 East, 1 West; 2 East, 2 West. And so on. In other words, the elevators will take you directly to your parked car.
  • FYI: The parking garage is currently open. The elevators are not yet functionable. However, it’s a flat fee of $20 for parking during Padres games. Petco Park is seven blocks away.  

Opening day? Parker says that come Summer of 2024, Horton will open if they have a minimum of 60% retail and 10% office space leased.  SDSun

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