Market Creek Plaza, San Diego’s innovative neighborhood-strengthening commercial and cultural center, reached a major milestone with its anchor tenant, Food 4 Less, reporting nearly 1.5 million customer transactions since opening its doors in January, 2001. The success of Food 4 Less has exceeded expectations, and will help drive future success for the Plaza and for the community. But it’s not a typical success story.
Market Creek Plaza is not a Westfield Shopping Towne. It’s not a Grossmont Center, with a collection of “alternative” chain stores, such as Pier One or Cost Plus. It’s not an outlet mall, like those in Carlsbad or Otay Mesa, a destination for bargain-hunters selling close-outs from the huge national chains.
Instead, Market Creek Plaza is a shopping and cultural operating on a whole different paradigm. Meeting the expressed needs of residents, opening new job opportunities, and providing one-of-a-kind, entrepreneurial businesses are part of the plan. All of the decision-making regarding Market Creek Plaza from architecture to construction to leasing is made in a team atmosphere, by residents, not a corporate boardroom. The team is open, it’s local, and it’s inclusive.
Is this any way to run a business? Sure it is, if your goal is neighborhood strengthening. That is the goal of the Jacobs Center for NonProfit Innovation (JCNI), which launched the Market Creek Plaza project in 1998. It operates on a “double bottom line” principle - profit both in dollar signs, and in social and economic benefit to the community.
“The community didn’t want another mall where national chain stores take money out of the neighborhood to some far-off corporate headquarters,” said Jennifer Vanica, President and CEO of the Jacobs Center. “Market Creek Plaza is succeeding at something that has never been done before in the United States.” The strategy involves capturing wealth and keeping it in the community where it has generated benefit for those who live there, through jobs, government services, and increased opportunities to succeed.
That success rests on the shoulders of hundreds of community members who formed working teams to design and build Market Creek Plaza to meet the needs of the residents who shop there. The teams included: Community Outreach, Art & Design, Business & Leasing, Construction and Ownership Design.
The Art & Design Team successfully translated vast cultural diversity and community input into an architectural look that honors all cultures represented in the neighborhood. The Construction Collaboration succeeded in surpassing its goal of 65 percent inclusion of women-owned or neighborhood-owned contracting firms. Through a series of capacity-building and mentorship programs, these contractors hired 360 local workers, built the two retail buildings at the center, and many have since grown from mom-and-pop businesses into multi-million dollar prime contractors.
The first jobs at the site, those at Food 4 Less, have been almost all filled by local workers. With nearly 1.5 million sales, Store Manager Miguel Bonilla is proud of Market Creek Plaza’s store.
“If you look at this location compared to others, it’s bigger and more open. It’s a more convenient set-up for customers,” said Bonilla. “About 15 to 20 percent of our merchandise is customized to meet the special interests and tastes of neighborhood shoppers.”
What’s going to serve the next million customers at Market Creek Plaza? Leases are being finalized for new retail and food merchants who will take the commercial and cultural center to the next level of success. The merchants, selected by a team of residents and Jacobs Center staff, include well-known names as well as entrepreneurial micro-enterprises started by community members.
In addition, Market Creek Plaza’s first public art installation, the Community Faces Art Project, will soon be unveiled portraits of 27 community-builders and leaders painted by 12 local artists. The 500-seat amphitheater is nearly ready to host local events and celebrations that will bring the cultural center aspect of Market Creek Plaza into focus.
The Jacobs Center for Non-Profit Innovation continues to expand its community involvement as Market Creek Plaza develops. More neighborhood input is being sought, new committees have formed, and the process of resident-ownership is being examined as the community shows its support by shopping at its local market -- Food 4 Less.