Maker space coming to City Heights

The O’Connor’s Church Goods property soon may get a facelift that combines the look of the original facade with a modern update.

The O’Connor’s Church Goods property soon may get a facelift that combines the look of the original facade with a modern update.

Jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities may be headed to City Heights soon if a planned “maker space” moves forward as its backers hope.

Developers are in the process of buying longstanding O’Connor’s Church Goods at El Cajon Boulevard and 37th Street, with plans to convert the property into what developer David Iwashita calls “a catalytic project” that combines work, events, eating, and gathering space in single location. An adjacent auto dealership will be repurposed into the project as a restaurant.

The “maker movement” has been gaining momentum over the past decade in cities large and small as technology has made do-it-yourself projects more popular. The work space envisioned by Iwashita and his business partner, Jay Wentz, will house graphic artists, architects, leather makers, bike repair specialists, attorneys, artists, photographers, woodworkers, and any other individual or small group that needs flexible work space.

A smaller-scale version of the project has been operating in an East Village warehouse near Petco Park, branded the Moniker Warehouse. There, 27 small businesses operate in 18,000 square feet, most without walls between them. Each business pays for the square footage it uses, with the flexibility to add more space as it grows.

Working shoulder to shoulder with other businesses may seem like a distraction to some, but it’s a draw for many. Tenants have found they can share business ideas, generate new opportunities, and lower their operating costs.

“It’s cool they were thoughtful with the tenants they brought in that can feed off each other,” said Rob Nelson, owner of a two-person architecture business, who works at the East Village site.

Nelson said tenants are always bouncing ideas off each other, and his firm uses a wood-fabrication business downstairs for interior design projects.

Iwashita said the O’Connor property will be like the East Village warehouse “on steroids.” It will have far greater amenities, such as air conditioning throughout, upgraded power outlets, high-speed Internet and conference rooms.

The developers will host community events at the building to keep the space alive and publicize the artisans’ work. A restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and an outside courtyard will serve as a community gathering place.

The property was built as early as 1908 along old Highway 80 and probably served as a trading post and storage unit for people coming into the city from the east. It has been home to O’Connor’s Church Goods for 51 years. Recently, O’Connor’s president Jacqueline O’Connor approached Iwashita and Wentz, who restored the historic Lafayette Hotel in North Park four years ago, with a proposal to sell them the property with the promise they would do something special. O’Connor has long been involved in El Cajon Boulevard business improvement projects.

After doing some market research, Iwashita and Wentz concluded the site is perfect for business incubation, a big strategic push by the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association and Civic San Diego. The property is located along an improved public transit corridor, it sits between San Diego State University and downtown, and it is within a one-mile radius of more than 50,000 people. And it is in an area with diverse economic backgrounds.

Iwashita and Wentz partnered with developer/entrepreneur Danny Fitzgerald and Damien McKinney, owner of the McKinney Advisory Group, to develop a commercial project as a catalyst bridge between North Park and City Heights and potentially the next great hub of economic development.

“Everyone is going to receive a lift by working together,” Iwashita said. “We are helping to create a community that incubates businesses that grow, which creates a sustainable San Diego.”

Eventually the facility could hold between 75 to 150 small businesses.

The developers plan to hold community gatherings over the next couple of months to get project input. In the meantime, architects are redesigning the facility to restore the historic look while bringing the infrastructure up to modern standards.

To provide project feedback or inquire about leasing space, booking events or getting involved with the new facility, please contact Ryan Sisson and Danny Fitzgerald at 858-663-4576 (Phone) or email to ECB@monikergroup.com.