Vendors include Moe Coffee, Serbesa Craft Beer & Filipino Kitchen, Smitty’s Taste of the Bayou and more
A transformation is underway on the corner of East Eighth Street and A Avenue in downtown National City, where a building that’s been vacant since 2014 will soon house a public market that will offer food, beer, coffee and more.
Just a block away, on the corner of Eighth and B Avenue, another major project is lined up. A mixed-use development will feature a mix of studios, apartments and townhouses, as well as coworking office space, a restaurant and other commercial spots.
The plans for both corners on Eighth — an east/west thoroughfare — are signs of hope that the once-stagnant area is on its way to being transformed into a more vibrant urban neighborhood as the city has envisioned for some time.
“Things are finally starting to happen,” said Jacqueline Reynoso, president and CEO of the National City Chamber of Commerce.
Everyone, it seems, is excited about the forthcoming changes, from stakeholders to longtime business owners who’ve longed for a thriving scene to stimulate business.
In fact, some are surprised the area isn’t already a hot destination given the city’s proximity to downtown San Diego and the rest of South Bay.
While there’s excitement about the changes, civic and business leaders, as well as developers, say they are mindful of the need to maintain the character of the predominately Latino and Filipino community and ensure low-income residents are not displaced. They said they’re committed to the fight against gentrification.
Market on 8th
Fittingly named Market on 8th, the public market will include stalls for eateries and retail shops, a beer garden and seating space. It’s set to open early next year.
The food vendor lineup includes: Moe Coffee, Pacific Poke, Ping Yang (Thai), Serbesa Craft Beer & Filipino Kitchen, Smitty’s Taste of the Bayou (barbecue), Wicked Maine Lobster, La Central Urban Grill (Mexican) and Yeti Dessert Cafe.
The 11,000-square-foot space will also include an outdoor spot for a food truck.
“We think it’s going to be maybe the first spark and add ... to what’s to come in National City,” said founder Joel Tubao, who co-founded Novo Brazil Brewing, which has cemented itself as a staple in Chula Vista.
8th & B
Just a stroll away, at the site of the shuttered H&M Goodies Auction House, the 127-unit, mixed-use development known as 8th & B will offer studios, 1-bedroom apartments and 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom townhouses, with shared rooftop lounges.
The predominant housing option will be the studios, at 400 square feet.
Designed to create an urban lifestyle feel, the plans also include ground-level commercial spaces for shops and fast-casual eateries, as well as coworking office space above the ground floor, with shared indoor/outdoor spaces for meetings and events.
The development will also be home to the first solo restaurant by chef Phillip Esteban, who helped launch San Diego hot spots Born & Raised and Ironside Fish & Oyster. The opening of WellFed — a name born out of the notion that you’re always well-fed at Filipino gatherings — will be a homecoming of sorts for Esteban, who grew up in National City.
Esteban described WellFed as an “elevated” dining restaurant.
His goal, he said, is to bring “visibility for the community, National City and Filipino food in general.”
Developer Andrew Malick said the idea behind the concept for 8th & B was to blend elements of a vibrant downtown in one building, including spaces that can be busy at all times of the day (in this case, a restaurant and office space), because a bustling downtown guarantees the success of businesses in the area.
“The one thing a downtown needs to be viable is people,” he said.
Construction of his project is set to begin early next year, with completion anticipated in mid-2021.
Both 8th & B and Market on 8th fall in line with the city’s vision to create a neighborhood where residents can live, work and “play” — all within the distance of a short walk, bike ride or trip on public transit.
With access to Interstate 5 and a trolley station on Eighth Street near Harbor Drive, downtown National City encompasses notable sites such as Kimball Park, City Hall, the library and Brick Row, a street lined with historic houses.
“It’s a surprise to me that more people haven’t seen the value and opportunity in National City,” Malick said.
But that may change.
Reynoso, of the Chamber, said she believes 8th & B and Market on 8th will “be the projects that stimulate further development,” encouraging developers and investors who have been holding out for the right time.
“Once things happen,” she said, “the buzz kicks in.”
“It was like a dead zone”
In fact, the buzz already has kicked in.
Adding to the excitement in the downtown area are a new coffee shop and MasterChef season 6 winner chef Claudia Sandoval’s plans to open a gourmet Mexican bakery, Cochi Dorado, at a location she has not yet disclosed.
“It’s exciting — all the new things that are coming,” said Peter Crivello, owner of Napoleone’s Pizza House.
He and other long-established business owners said they’ve waited a long time for the area to become something better, a hub like downtown areas in other cities. With the plans on Eighth in mind, Crivello said he envisions the street turning into a hotspot, akin to Chula Vista’s Third Avenue, which is lined with coffee shops, beer spots and more.
Crivello has exciting plans of his own, too. He intends to expand by opening what he plans to call Napoleon’s Italian Market — a deli/bakery/cafe — in a building adjacent to the pizza restaurant on National City Boulevard.
Not far away, at Neiderfrank’s Ice Cream, the second-oldest business in National City, owner Maryellen Faught recalled the era when she took over the business about 25 years ago.
“It was like a dead zone out here,” she said.
She said the nearby Southwestern College Higher Education Center — a satellite campus — attracted customers after it opened in 1998. Still, she doesn’t see a ton of foot traffic or spots to entice would-be frequenters. She welcomes projects such as Market on 8th, which will open next door.
Customers also have noticed that the once-vacant building will soon be in use.
“After all these years, finally going to get something next door?” a woman asked Faught as she walked up to the counter on a recent late Friday morning.
“Revitalization without gentrification”
While the long-awaited developments are widely welcomed, issues such as community character and the displacement of residents are at the forefront of the minds of civic and business leaders and developers.
Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis said she’s pushed for “revitalization without gentrification or displacement,” adding that she reminds developers who come forward with ideas that the average household income in National City is just above $41,000.
To address the housing needs of constituents, the mayor said, she wants the City Council to consider a policy that would require developers to reserve a certain percentage of units for low-income residents.
Aside from housing needs, another important element in the battle against gentrification is the need to maintain a strong sense of identity, stakeholders said.
One way to do that is through art. Reynoso said the city may want to consider creating sustainable funding avenues to invest in public art, which would also help showcase the city’s rich history and culture. One option: to create what’s known as a percent for arts program, which would impose a fee on developers to fund art projects.
For his part, Malick said he’s been working with A Reason to Survive (ARTS) — an arts group based in downtown National City — to incorporate one or more art pieces into 8th & B. He said they’re trying to think outside the box, adding that a mural on the side of a new building is “almost cliché at this point.”
For a lesson on ways to balance growth and community character, National City will look to a neighboring community: Barrio Logan, where the Chamber next month will lead a walking tour to take in lessons about the changes the neighborhood has experienced due to an influx of hip art venues, coffee shops and other businesses.
“We want to go in with open eyes and ears,” Reynoso said.