When the O’Connor family, owners of the O’Connor Church Goods store and supply warehouse, decided to sell their property at 37th and El Cajon Boulevard in the Normal Heights neighborhood of San Diego, it seemed perfectly fitting to have the local visionaries behind the restoration of the historic Lafayette Hotel and Swim Club, Jay Wentz and David Iwashita, create the next successful life span for the property.
Along with the sale of the O’Connor’s property comes a commitment to do something special and meaningful for the local community. El Cajon Boulevard has been home to O’Connor’s for the last 51 years, with 2016 marking the 80th anniversary of their business.
“O’Connor’s is very excited to continue their legacy in recent decades of the Boulevard’s revitalization and economic development,” said John O’Connor. “Although the move for O’Connor’s is bittersweet, we are excited for our company’s future, and to move our store to another location that will serve the community for the next 80 years,” says O’Connor.
In January, Wentz and Iwashita of Grasshopper Development began working with local stakeholders, namely the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association’s (the Boulevard BIA) Economic Development Committee, Civic San Diego, and numerous non-profits serving the City and Normal Heights area. After researching the rich history of the structures and meeting the revitalization goals of the Boulevard BIA, they determined the highest and best use for the property was to create a business incubator and that could empower creatives, start-ups, and entrepreneurs on the Boulevard.
With that goal in mind, 37ECB’s vision will be embracing the surrounding community and reconnecting to the spirit of the building’s uses since 1936, along Historic U.S. Route 80. The site first served as an entry point into San Diego for west-bound travelers on the first trans-continental highway running from the East to West coast with El Cajon Boulevard being the bridge to new opportunity during the middle of the century. The Boulevard soon became a hot spot with the best drive-in restaurants, malt shops, and drag races during “The Golden Era.”
The O’Connor’s building was home to various commercial businesses from light industrial and office uses, furniture stores and General Dynamic’s Convair Division utilized the property for development of the Altas Missile during the 1950s, which launched the first American’s into Earth’s orbit. The corner parcel of the O’Connor’s block once developed as a service station in the 1920s became a 7-Eleven store in the 1970s, and will soon become a community park amenity and anchor of 37ECB.
37ECB will be uniquely different from typical co-working and incubator spaces in San Diego in that it will have an 18-hour vitality. The development team is in the process of curating and lining up a mix of operators for a diverse, daily food offering, a local coffee roaster, a full service beverage bar, and locally made products in a market setting.
There will also be an active co-working lobby membership base of weekly educational programs and workshops; mailboxes, meeting/conference rooms and a small business center. 37ECB will have a recording and film production studio supporting start-ups, non-profits, and the emerging arts and entertainment scene. On-site there will also be private dining, maker production and studio spaces rented by the hour including bike storage, lockers and a repair station. There will also be opportunities for nutritional classes, urban gardening and fitness programs.
“37ECB is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for food & beverage operators, with over 20,000 square feet of programmable space, with capacity for over 200 creatives and small businesses on-site daily, and over 200 events a year”, said Jay Wentz. “The customers are built in.”
The vision of 37ECB is that the repositioning of the O’Connor’s building will be the beginning of a groundswell that will continue to grow and unfold. It will provide unique opportunities for the artists and creative professionals in the community, as well as new dining and entertainment options for all. 37ECB will initiate the revitalization of the surrounding site for continued growth that eventually will transition organically into a cultural and entertainment district.
“Within a one-mile radius of 37ECB, there are more than 50,000 residents, which is a higher density than Downtown, that boasts over 20,000 traffic count along El Cajon Blvd. We are excited about bringing another catalytic project to the Boulevard as an anchor for the new economic development that will bring new commercial business and local job opportunities to support the local entrepreneurial class and residents. We are creating a community that is designed to support one another and make one another better in all that we do in life and business,” said David Iwashita.
Iwashita and Wentz partnered with former commercial real estate broker turned developer/entrepreneur Danny Fitzgerald and Damien McKinney, owner of McKinney Advisory Group. Estimated construction completion is planned for summer 2016. To provide project feedback, inquire about leasing space, or to book an event please go to www.37ECB.com.