Solving the Escondido Youth Exodus: Urban Play

Published Monday, June 24th, 2013 by Dave Woods

Last week, the third article in the Escondido Youth Exodus series focused on the importance of creating more jobs in Escondido. In this week’s finale, we turn our focus to something more fun, literally.

All work and no play…

My generation is one that absolutely thrives on the hours outside of work as a time to unwind and play. We don’t want to spend hours on the freeway commuting each day. Instead, we want to live close to where we work and spend that precious time saved making memories with friends and family. In fact, it’s a safe bet that anyone, in any generation, would choose the latter.

So how does Escondido fare when it comes time to play?

One area where I feel Escondido is incredibly strong is in our opportunities for outdoor activity. Between our warm weather, numerous parks, preserves like Daley Ranch, and a central location that makes it easy to get to both the beach and the mountains, Escondido truly offers fun for people of all ages.

But there’s another type of play that is critically important to young professionals, yet severely lacking in Escondido: urban play.

Some examples: Attending happy hour with coworkers. Relaxing at a coffee shop after 8 PM. Having a late dinner out after a busy and long workday. Grabbing a drink at one of numerous classy bars or nightclubs (keyword: classy) late at night on the weekend. These kinds of activities are the hallmarks of youth-friendly living in San Diego’s urban neighborhoods like North Park, Hillcrest, and Little Italy.

Meanwhile in Downtown Escondido… Well, we all love our downtown, but we also know where it falls short. Suffice it to say that the options, the hours of operation, and the lively "vibe" are either lacking or far more limited here than they are in San Diego, Carlsbad, or even San Marcos.

There’s no need to dwell on those negatives and beat a dead horse. Instead, let’s be constructive and focus on solutions that compliment our downtown’s existing strengths. I sincerely believe that Downtown Escondido is north county’s Little Italy or North Park in waiting. So how do we make this potential a reality? Here are a couple ideas:

  • Attract two or three well-known anchor tenants
    Our downtown is primarily composed of locally-owned businesses. I’m intensely proud of that fact and do not want to see Downtown Escondido turn into a San Marcos-style strip mall driven by generic national brands. That said, we do have to realize that big names often have the effect of raising the tide for all nearby boats, including the small ones. With that in mind, consider these options: What if wildly-popular Port Brewing Company opened a new Pizza Port restaurant in the old Taste of Florence location? Or maybe the Eureka chain — which keeps their affordable-yet-top-notch kitchen open right up until closing time at 1 AM — could set up shop in the old McMahan Furniture storefront? Or how about a Burger Lounge on the ground floor of the Crone Building at the corner of Grand and Broadway, or in one of the empty storefronts near the Maple Street Plaza? I see lots of opportunities and potential here for the city’s economic development folks to entice a few of these kinds of mid-size chains that are specific to San Diego or California.
  • Please, once and for all, let’s attract a combo nightclub and live entertainment venue
    It’s so shocking to me that, outside of the Belly Up in Solana Beach, north county is virtually devoid of any kind of nightclub or entertainment venue. So why not a live entertainment venue in Downtown Escondido, open until 2 AM, offering a variety of entertainment types? The variety would be the key: A live DJ spinning hip-hop some nights. Line dancing other evenings. Big-name live entertainment and quality cover bands on weekends. The entertainment combinations are endless. Perhaps the owners of the Belly Up are the perfect people to undertake this endeavor — maybe call it the "Belly East?" They could even resurrect the old Ritz Theater on East Grand to house this new venue — now wouldn’t that be cool?

The great news is: These kinds of additions to our downtown would benefit ALL age groups, not just young professionals.

Why the topic of the Escondido Youth Exodus is so important to me

This four-part series was quite an undertaking. I estimate it took at least 20 hours of statistical research, writing, and editing to put it together. Why did I volunteer to dedicate so much time to explain this problem and offer solutions? There are two reasons:

First, I’ve always tried to make Think Grand an open forum that reflects the ideas and interests of its participants. What I’ve heard from many of you — of all ages — is that you want to see Escondido become a more youth-friendly place, so I definitely felt compelled to write this.

My other reason is deeply personal. As I noted earlier in the series, my professional occupation is tech-related — websites, apps, digital strategies, etc. In the last couple of years, I’ve started my own consultancy called Deedub. We’re small now, but like any business, I have big goals and aspirations. In fact, under the right circumstances, a couple of the software ideas we have could blossom and warrant the hiring of at least 20 talented employees somewhere down the road.

It may sound a bit self-assured or even arrogant, but a tech-related business like mine that has high growth potential, and the future ability to attract young, intelligent employees, seems like exactly the type of employer that Escondido needs. In fact, we need a bunch of them.

But here’s the problem…

Down in San Diego, the neighborhoods around Balboa Park are filled with great companies similar to what mine aspires to be. We’ll be drawing from essentially the same talent pool. Salary and all other things being equal, if a potential employee has to choose between a San Diego-based company located in a neighborhood that epitomizes the mantra of "live, work and play," and my Deedub located in an Escondido that lacks sufficient career and play opportunities, I will lose the recruitment battle each and every time.

Plain and simple, I have deep concerns about the ability of a business like mine to thrive and grow in today’s Escondido. In fact, I’m beginning to seriously wonder if I may need to eventually relocate my business to San Diego or another more lively, youth-friendly, and tech-friendly locale. That may shock some of you to hear me say that. After all, I’m the founder of Think Grand, I’m an Escondido native, and I love our community — how could I possibly say such things or consider leaving? But it’s because of that love that I also feel the need to be honest on this topic.

So that’s why I wrote this article — because I truly want to see things improve here in terms of job opportunities and urban play for ALL ages, not just young professionals. I genuinely want my company to become one of many new Escondido success stories yet to come. That’s why, as long as I still live and work here, I’ll continue to offer solutions and spread the word about this topic whenever and wherever I can. Otherwise, that silhouetted picture of me with my middle school buddies may someday look like this:

An old photo of Think Grand Founder Dave Woods in 8th grade with ten of his closest friends. Dave and his ten friends are displayed as white silhouettes to demonstrate the fact that they either have left, or may eventually leave, Escondido as adults.

I hope you’ll join me in being an advocate and a problem-solver for this cause. Let’s turn the Escondido Youth Exodus into an influx. Your reactions and ideas are welcome in comments below:

Join the discussion! 3 comments so far...

  1. Crime must be reduced in Escondido, 1st. Pretty hard for me to encourage my young adult neices and nephews to hang out in Escondido after dark. Even Cruisin Grand becomes dangerously off limits after 8pm, the crowd changes at dusk and the event is officially over. Maybe start with the court system in CA. The courts are NOT rehabilitating anyone. The courts and jails spin them out a little worse each time they return to Escondido more hard core. Smart Kids and Adults accept that it is Escondido is just a place to live and you play at the beach. Escondido will never have a beach or bay.

    Comment by Gina Zimmerman on June 28, 2013 at 5:12 PM

    Check out this city's way of connecting with the community. Similar to Cruisin' Grand, but imagine more street performers, musicians, artists, restaurant samplings, and farmers market events all incorporated into our Friday nights on Grand. It is a draw to visitors.

    Comment by Cathy Hamilton on July 8, 2013 at 6:04 PM

  3. The Old Escondido Neighborhood has vested interest in such improvements to its neighbor named "Downtown". Many of its residents (and people who drive to the neighborhood to walk) also sometimes incorporate downtown in their walks, or would like to have nice venues to walk to from home. In addition to the nice places to go, it would be nice to see attention given to the existing (or created) routes that would beckon one to get out and walk them, just because they are so fun and beautiful.

    Comment by Carolyn Bonk on September 25, 2013 at 10:57 AM

Sorry, comments are closed for this article.