On October 29, 2020, the SDAPA presented a webinar to highlight the overall progress of a multiple component renovation of the Town and Country Hotel in Mission Valley, on-site housing development, and an adjacent addition to the San Diego River Park. We had a three-member panel composed of Todd Major, from Lowe, developers of the Town and Country site, Rick Barrett from MIG, who did the park design, and Rob Hutsel, President and CEO of the San Diego River Park Foundation. Our moderator was Nancy Graham, AICP, SDAPA Section Leader and Project Manager at the City of San Diego Planning Department.

Nancy Graham kicked off the webinar, provided background to the topic, and facilitated questions for the panel. Nancy pointed out how the plan for the development influenced the update to the Mission Valley Community Plan.  The project plan focused on setting aside lower-performing components of the property, reducing surface parking, enhancing the river, and adding housing adjacent to the Fashion Valley transit center. The City’s mixed-use zoning regulations stemmed from this and similar projects.

Todd Major gave an overview of the master plan for the 40-acre Town and Country Hotel property, that was 6-years in the making. He highlighted the plan’s mixed-use components of a repositioned hotel, construction by the Holland Partner Group of 840 multifamily units’ additions to the San Diego River Park of a 3.3-acre passive park and 8.5 acres of habitat.

Todd discussed the Hotel’s history as the first one in Mission Valley, the City’s first conference facility and its rich Mid-Century and California Rancho style architecture. The repositioned hotel reoriented the property towards the San Diego River, retained the architectural themes of the original structures, and added new restaurants, including significant amounts of outdoor seating. There are now 688 rooms in the hotel, down from 1,000 previously. Much of the surface parking was consolidated into an $8M parking structure, freeing up land for the housing units and the park.

Rick Barret and Todd Major gave a detailed overview of the park addition.  The vision and goals of the park and riverbank improvements were to:

  • Align with the MSCP subarea plan and the San Diego River Master Plan
  • Reveal the river valley and its role in Mission valley history
  • Reorient the development to the river
  • Create value and opportunities for people and embrace the river
  • Restore and maintain a healthy river system and connect fragmented habitat areas
  • Restore and enhance the river trail

Significant public input included calls for pathways, gateways, passive recreational areas, improved water flow, and the addition of lighting, landscaping, and connections to transit. The resulting elements included a gateway plaza in the northwest corner and a new pedestrian bridge linking to Fashion Valley and the Trolley station. Other actions included the removal of invasive plants and Eucalyptus trees and the inclusion of natural materials and non-invasive plants.

Rob Hutsel talked about the work of the San Diego River Park Foundation over their 20-year history, stemming from a sewage spill in Alvarado Canyon.  Their work is a passionate labor of love to celebrate our river. The San Diego River is 52 miles in length and has seen significant development of trails and adjacent parks in the Santee area. Much of their focus today is on the western 9 miles, from the Stadium to Dog Beach in Ocean Beach.  Much of the river-adjacent property in this area is publicly owned or part of upcoming new developments. Current projects in that stretch include the SDSU redevelopment of the original San Diego Stadium site, which will include a river park the length of the property, the recently approved Riverwalk development on the site of the Riverwalk golf course, that will include 80-acres of park and habitat and Grant Park, located at Qualcomm Way and Camino del Rio North. The river runs through it and is a key piece that serves as the hub between SDSU Mission Valley and Riverwalk.

The Town and Country project included many community meetings and strong collaboration between the public, the Foundation, regulatory agencies, the City, and the Brown family (owners of the Town and Country).  The collaboration led to a community-based vision and conceptual plan adopted by all stakeholders.

A recording of the webinar can be found at HTTPS://youtu.be/LVw9Zz8urrc.