By: Alan Nevin
I have just returned from Boston where Little Italy is really Big Italy. Cannoli and gelato rule the day. The entire North End of Boston is inundated with great restaurants, great street scenes and real live Italians. I really don’t anticipate that we can ever emulate Boston’s Little Italy experience, but we can sure give it a try.
San Diego’s Little Italy and its adjacent neighborhoods are in a boom. The best view of Little Italy is from a crane atop the 22-story 224-unit Ariel apartment project (AVRP Architects) under construction on India Street.
The next block over, Alliance is building the 201-unit Broadstone apartments (Carrier Johnson). And construction is under way on the 31-unit Legacy Apartments with 3,500 square feet of retail space at Kettner Boulevard and W. Juniper Street. That project will be completed by June 2014.
I also want to recognize the 40-unit Villa Cusma apartments on Columbia Street at W. Fir Street. This high-style complex hasn’t received much notice, but it is a very likeable five-story complex and most units have already been rented.
On the condominium scene, the seven-story 71-unit Bella Pacifico project designed by Don Edson and JZMK Partners has been approved for a site on Pacific Highway next to the Marriott Resident Inn. There’s an old motel on the site now.
And it is likely that Bosa Development will soon move forward with its newest offering at Kettner Boulevard and W. Ash Street. The 35-story, 285-unit tower is directly behind Bosa’s almost sold-out Bayview tower.
On the hotel scene, the Tom Fat China Camp site will be under way soon with 364 hotel rooms (probably with a Hilton flag) and the Lankford Associates team is moving forward with two high-rise hotels on Lane Field (a total of 400 rooms).
I cannot complete this article without mentioning the dining/imbibing scene. It seems like every time I go to Little Italy, which is often, there is a new restaurant. Among the newest are the 9,000-square-foot Ballast Point Brewery, opening soon; North End Lounge; Isola; NaPizza; Landini’s; and Underbelly. Regrets: the demise of the wonderful Anthology.
Little Italy has been missing green space. Its sole park to date is the charming Amici Park next to the Washington Elementary School at State and W. Date streets. Now there will be a new park and a great one at that.
Next to the County Administration Building, the south parking lot will be turned into an eight-acre waterfront park with a garage underneath it. And, of course, the first phase of the Embarcadero project ties Little Italy to the waterfront in a new and exciting way.
The orchestration of the social and cultural life of the 48 square blocks of Little Italy is the domain of the Little Italy Association, under the baton of founder Marco LeMandri.
The Association takes care of the area’s cleanliness, signage, public relations and events. The year-round events are plentiful and inevitably involve food, drink, art and music.
They are typically controlled mob scenes with thousands of San Diegans enjoying festivities. I should note that my family and I almost always arrive at these scenes aboard the trolley that stops right in Little Italy.
And finally, some really good news. As you know, drinking alcoholic beverages is a cardinal sin in the city of San Diego. In fact, unless you have a high fence around a patio, you cannot serve alcoholic beverages outdoors.
Now, thanks to the courageous proposal of the Little Italy Association, it may become possible to have drinks on a patio without a fence.
This is of particular importance to those of us with pets because until now, if I want to sit outside a restaurant with my dog at my side and have a beer, I can’t do it unless there is a fence around the patio and, of course, I can’t take the dog inside.
The absurdity of the current code is overwhelming. Mind you, this is only an experiment and only applicable in Little Italy, but the “rail-less” program is a first step. Someday we may have open patios with drinks and dogs like the rest of the civilized world.
Little Italy is leading the way to rationality, thanks to the Little Italy Association. Buon appetito!
Nevin is a principal with The London Group Realty Advisors.
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