Please note: The following opinion piece was voluntarily written and contributed by Melissa Inez Walker, Owner of Downtown Escondido’s ArtHatch and Distinction Gallery. This article does not represent the "official stance" of Think Grand as TG does not take official stances on issues. Instead, Think Grand is an open forum that welcomes absolutely all individual viewpoints that are expressed in a constructive way. If you want to see additional viewpoints represented on the pages of Think Grand, then you need to volunteer your voice and make it happen. Either reply to this article by commenting below, or volunteer to write a full article on a topic you’re passionate about.
It recently came to my attention that John Paul the Great Catholic University hopes relocate to Downtown Escondido into the former Mingei and H. Johnson buildings, eventually adding student dorms. Frankly, I cannot think of a better fit to enliven our sleepy community. Upon a brief search of the school I found that tuition for the private business, film, and animation school is just under $22,000 or just under $38,000 with all expenses included.
I will admit I am the first to snicker when City officials claim they hope Escondido will become a "Mini Gaslamp — an 18 hour downtown" while concurrently setting up road blocks and even ordinances against all those places that make a downtown diverse like tattoo shops, hookah bars, and at one point even gyms.
The truth is most downtowns are created around colleges. This is what gives downtown communities life! Off hand I can think of City College, the New School of Architecture, and San Diego Arts College (before their move to North Park), in downtown San Diego. Escondido needs more people downtown! Since opening Distinction (now ArtHatch) in 2004 I can count dozens of businesses that have closed. I will be the first to admit that some of them were not well run, but the majority of them were well thought out, funded, awesome businesses with very hard working owners. If we want the cycle to end, we need a major draw downtown.
I attended a similar sized, similar priced, Catholic liberal arts college and can say first hand that the businesses surrounding our college thrived based on the students' support. While most students did have cars, some didn't, which meant even more patronage for the businesses within walking distance. These students would frequent downtown restaurants at a minimum, and hopefully help to encourage the filling up of the six vacant businesses on Grand directly across from the potential site. They would also help give life to the Maple Street Promenade, which has been sorely underused.
The bottom line is that for Downtown Escondido to survive the competition of surrounding cities and our incredible new mall renovation, it needs not only a community that cares about the survival of small businesses, but also a diverse downtown that draws foot traffic. The city is on the right track with the desire for more living units downtown, but we also need more office space, more parking, and one major anchor tenant or several smaller anchor tenants. I still have visions of a natural grocer downtown and imagine, like any business, they need to be approached and enticed as to why a move to Escondido would make sense. If we could get the college, a grocer, an upscale hotel, and perhaps a hookah bar for those 18-20 year olds who want something fun and legal to do, then we might just have a shot at survival.
I think business owners and patrons alike need to ban together and support John Paul the Great Catholic University. There are still several remaining buildings from 7,000 to 13,000 sq. ft. available downtown for others to fill with their dreams. In the meantime, let's all try to think more like business people and less like critics. Try to think of each new business and how it will affect downtown as a whole. Will it bring a positive aspect to Escondido? Will it bring more people to support my neighbors? Is it something that is currently unavailable? Every new business may not personally benefit all of us, but if it helps downtown thrive and continue to be a wonderful place to visit, then in my mind it's a positive step.
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