Coronado, California

Massachusetts | 2000 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 4/3/2000


When the bridge opened, connecting the island community of Coronado (population 17,885) to San Diego, downtown began to deteriorate as residents were drawn to large, mainland shopping centers. During the late 1970s and early ‘80s, buildings were in bad repair and the vacancy rate was over 35 percent. The historic Spreckels Building, which is two blocks long, had become vacant and derelict under its absentee owner.

In 1986, the Coronado City Council formed a Downtown Task Force, comprised of community volunteers to look into revitalizing the historic downtown. The Downtown Task Force began by holding community workshops with business leaders, residents, and local government officials. The community wanted a vibrant business district, maintained buildings, clean streets, and more flowers and color for the streetscape. The City Council enlisted the Business Areas Advisory Committee (BAAC) to develop a comprehensive master plan.

The BAAC was publicly funded and collectively represented the perspectives of the residents, business operators, and property owners. In the nearly three years of BAAC’s development of the Business Area Development Plan, the master plan for downtown revitalization, the committee commissioned studies to assess the community’s retail market, examine parking and traffic circulation, and identify options for funding physical improvements for public spaces. The Development Plan was completed in December 1994.

Concurrently, a preservationist, Paul Swerdlove, purchased the Spreckels Building and began a $10 million restoration to include live theater. Businesses anticipating the downtown revitalization began to relocate to new, remodeled locations. Coronado Main Street assisted the City Council with the implementation of a new sign ordinance and worked with the private sector to bring over 60 signs into compliance, thus jump-starting the physical renewal of downtown. Façade improvements began to blossom along the main street – Orange Avenue – and the tangible results were much appreciated by the community.

Coronado Main Street’s design committee planted nine gardens in the wide, grass-covered median of Orange Avenue. Using a grant from the city, Coronado Main Street installed white lights along the roofline of downtown buildings to create nighttime interest. The addition of the Lamb’s Theater and 12 new restaurants have brought residents and tourist downtown in the evening.  The City, with help from Coronado Main Street, relaxed its parking requirement for restaurants – allowing 18 outdoor seats without providing parking.

Over the 11 years of the program, private investment in downtown has been approximately $15 million and public improvements total over $10 million. A net of 62 new businesses has been added, creating a net gain of 619 new jobs.  Since 1988, sales tax revenues have increased 93 percent; the vacancy rate is now near zero; and the transit occupancy tax from the tourism industry has more than tripled. 

Coronado today is a vibrant, diverse, and solvent downtown – once again.