When David Alvarez walks down National Avenue in Barrio Logan nowadays, he can’t help but notice the drastic changes to the street. There’s a fresh coat of orange and green paint on what is now the new San Diego Public Market. A few blocks south, on the corner of Cesar E Chavez Parkway, the El Mercado del Barrio development project nears completion. And under the Coronado Bridge, restored murals have reawakened Chicano Park.
For Alvarez, a San Diego city council member who grew up in Barrio Logan, the changes are exciting and long overdue.
“For those of us who know Barrio Logan … we are very excited about the changes that are coming,” Alvarez said. “The changes are positive, and the developments are being integrated into the character of the neighborhood.”
Barrio Logan has been a Hispanic neighborhood since refugees from the Mexican Revolution flooded into Logan Heights more than 100 years ago. But the residential neighborhood took a beating in the 1950s and 1960s, first from the expansion of Naval Base San Diego and related industrial uses, then from the addition of Interstate 5 and the Coronado Bridge.
But it is finally making a comeback, thanks to Petco Park and other recent development activity. While many city projects throughout the country have been at a standstill, Barrio Logan defied the odds during a tough economic time. Alvarez said there are a number of things drawing people to the community.
“I think people are attracted to the uniqueness of the area and the fantastic public transportation, as well as the proximity to downtown without having to pay the high price tag,” Alvarez said. “People think the future of San Diego is going to be in our urban neighborhoods, so a combination of all of that is attracting people to the neighborhood.”
Barrio Logan sits in the fastest gentrifying zip code in San Diego, and the 21st fastest in the nation. According to U.S. Census Bureau, the 92113 zip code jumped from 11.7 percent white people in the population in 2000 to 32.8 percent in 2010. Granted, Barrio Logan only accounts for one-third of the zip code, but the gentrification shows there is dramatic change afoot.
Alvarez said the gentrification started increasing in the early 2000s due to trends in the real estate market. The combination of the trends and new amenities helped lure people to the area.
“Since the [Padres] ball park came in, and in the boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the gentrification was at the forefront of everybody in the area, including areas such as Sherman Heights, Logan Heights and Barrio Logan,” Alvarez said. “The close proximity to the amenities created a downtown boom.”
Of course, the current state of the housing market means now is a great time for people looking to buy a home.
“Prices are dropping now, so the opportunities for homeownership for working people in that neighborhood exist today,” Alvarez said. “Some of the developments in Barrio Logan have been affordable housing developments, so a lot of the families that used to live in a duplex or studio [now] live in a brand new apartment with more amenities.”
Commercial activity is also starting to brew in the area. Two retailers, Catt White and Dale Steele, recently opened the San Diego Public Market after getting $146,121 in seed money through the website Kickstarter.com.
“[Barrio Logan] is a community that’s in a really good spot right now in terms of development,” said White, who has run several farmers markets in San Diego, including the one in Little Italy. “It’s cohesive; it’s a good, strong neighborhood, and it’s also turning from what once was an industrial factory area into an area that’s active with other kinds of entrepreneurs and manufacturers.”
White and Steele took over an old industrial warehouse and space around it and now operate the San Diego Public Market on Wednesdays and Sundays. They are in the process of converting the space into a market that will feature commercial kitchens, classrooms and space for events, in addition to the permanent food stalls. When done, it will be home to several small businesses and artisans.
White said Barrio Logan has been a food desert because it had little access to fresh produce and certain staple foods. The Public Market will help to fill that void, as well as create new jobs for locals and ultimately boost the local economy, White said. Alvarez agreed.
“[The Public Market] will be an incubator for small businesses,” Alvarez said. “It is going to provide an opportunity to be a hub where people can learn skills or sell products on sight.”
The El Mercado del Barrio development project, which is scheduled to open before the end of this year, will also fill the food void.
The development project will combine residential units with retail stores and include a 35,891 square-foot Northgate Market — a popular grocery store that caters to Hispanics. The development will also include a second retail building on the corner of Main and Cesar Chavez, and a third residential building with 92 affordable apartment units.
John Alvarado, a lifelong resident of Barrio Logan, is concerned with the impact the Northgate Market will have on small mom-and-pop businesses that have been in the area for years. But overall, he is optimistic the projects will help the community.
“I’m pretty upbeat and positive about [the developments],” Alvarado said. “It means more jobs and, in many cases, better services will be available.”
But Alvarado, whose family has lived in the neighborhood since 1921, said he is most excited about the Chicano Park mural restorations. The park received a $1.6 million federal grant, which was administered by the California Department of Transportation, so muralists could restore 18 murals. The murals were originally painted as part of a protest against the Coronado Bridge development in the 1960s.
Even though Alvarado, a school teacher for the Sweetwater Union High School District, thinks the changes in the community will be positive, he wants to make sure the history and identity of Barrio Logan are not lost in the midst of new development.
“I do believe people such as myself represent our families and traditions,” Alvarado said. “You want to make sure your identity is placed in the history books, and that requires telling the whole history. So for me as a teacher, the thing I want young people in particular to know is that the whole history of Logan is something we can be proud of.”