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PROPERTY: Projects, Plans And Demand Reshaping Area
By Lou Hirsh

San Diego — In the Bankers Hill building where printing presses once churned out copies of the San Diego Daily Transcript, the property’s new owner, Michael Donovan, envisions a space where restaurant patrons will one day enjoy freshly brewed craft beer.

Donovan’s locally based company, SDPB Holdings LLC, initially had residential uses in mind when it invested $5.3 million to purchase the three-building property at 2131 Third Ave., which was vacated by the longtime newspaper tenant in October 2015.

“But I did some research, and we decided to go in this other direction,” Donovan said, adding he’s now aiming to develop a creative-office complex that could include — subject to cityapprovals — a brewery-restaurant adjacent to offices housing one or more small-company tenants.

Speaking with brokers, business operators, residents and other developers, the longtime developer of urban infill projects found that Bankers Hill — similar to nearby neighborhoods such as Hillcrest, North Park and portions of downtown — was getting increasing interest from the 35-and-under millennial crowd, among others.

Experts said the neighborhood to the west of Balboa Park and just south of Hillcrest — sometimes called Park West, but better known as Bankers Hill for its historic attraction to bankers and other affluent business leaders — is now seeing a slew of new construction and renovation projects.

Those projects are bringing new apartments and condos, which are attracting millennials along with empty-nest baby boomers and retirees aiming to downsize their housing arrangements in an urban-core setting. That is setting the stage for the arrival of new restaurants, coffeehouses, brewpubs, salons and other service businesses aiming to serve those new residents.

At the iconic “Mr. A’s Building” at 2550 Fifth Ave., where owners are nearing completion on an extensive interior and exterior renovation, brokers are in talks with numerous office tenants to fill a relative few vacancies that remain in the 13-story property.

Talks are also proceeding with numerous businesses to fill its ground-floor commercial spaces, where leases have already been signed with Attibassi, a gourmet coffee shop chain based in Bologna, Italy; and North Island Credit Union, which will open a new Bankers Hill office.

For another ground-floor space at the same building, brokers are nearing completion of lease negotiations with a well-known San Diego-based restaurant operator, which was not being named at press time, to open its newest location.

“It’s an iconic building, but it’s also in an area that’s been undergoing a sort of a renaissance,” said Tommy Gibbs, an associate vice president who is part of Cushman & Wakefield’s team handling retail leasing at the Mr. A’s property. “There’s a lot of new energy these days.”

Fifth & Laurel

The building, originally developed in 1965 by prominent local businessman John Alessio, was purchased in 2014 for approximately $39.2 million by an investment group consisting of Casey Brown, Steve Bollert and Paul Lebeau (Brown subsequently left to form his own company).