Posted by: cantmisssd | October 18, 2010

Commercial St.

Commercial Street has a rather short life. It begins at the 12th and Imperial Transit Center near PETCO Park, and runs east with the Orange Line Trolley until 32nd Street, where the trolley line bends north towards Imperial Avenue and Commercial ends just short of the 15. In that space is the trolley station at 25th and Commercial, and another at 32nd and Imperial. It’s twenty blocks if you’re feeling generous, and for the most part, it’s a wasteland.

Junk yards, salvage stations, auto repair shops dot the trolley line. Wooden pallets and junked cars stacked several stories high behind chain link fences. And even beyond that, vacancy after vacancy. As Adrian Florido reported several months ago, it was once imagined to be much more- and might be inching towards a resurgence.

That streak of the trolley line is at the center of a long-term plan to transform the street from an industrial thoroughfare into a dense corridor bustling with affordable apartments and storefronts.

The plan is in its earliest stages, but city officials and active residents hope it will provide jobs, housing, and stores in a poor neighborhood that has long needed them. The trolley, which replaced the freight lines in 1987, will play a central role.

With the pending mixed-use development centered on a commercial boost in Barrio Logan, the Commercial St corridor and the existing trolley anchor, is primed for redevelopment. Objectively, it’s an area with much more recommending it than neighborhoods like Hillcrest or North Park. Those communities rely on freeway access and a general centralized location. The Commercial Street corridor already has the trolley and road shooting straight into the heart of downtown, PETCO Park, buses and blue line transfer at 12th & Imperial, an East Village on the upswing and potentially a new Chargers stadium. At either end it has the 5 and 15 freeways. There’s easy access to Chicano Park, Coronado, Golden Hill and Balboa Park.

The opportunity- and challenge- is to reconcile growth and redevelopment with the existing character of the neighborhood. Unlike an area like North Park that was a bit of a blank slate before revitalization plans, the Logan Heights/Sherman Heights/Grant Hill communities already have a distinct flavor and personality. So while Commercial itself is mostly blank space, the supporting community isn’t and should be reflected in development plans.

Voice’s article mentions that community meetings are expected to begin in 2011, and it will be important to take cues from what the neighborhood generates. This area doesn’t need huge buildings or super-density, just a functional strip that allows people to live and work largely without a car. Walking to restaurants and basic shopping, parks and functional shared space, community services, simple addition of a bike lane to get in and out of downtown. It’ll also take commitment to local hiring, and in a dream world would also include outreach and institutional support to help existing local residents take advantage of new retail space and upgraded residential units.

The money and the commitment might be hard to come by, but it’ll be crucial to aim high as the plans begin to come together. This is an opportunity to establish a model of new goals and priorities for development throughout the city, and it will be an important case study on how to redevelop a cohesive neighborhood in a more nuanced way than simply papering over everything.

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