SAN DIEGO - Work crews Thursday began demolishing the old Robinsons-May/Planet Hollywood building at Westfield Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego to make room for a new public park.
Officials behind the $14 million project hope to create a 37,000-square-foot civic gathering space that will hold more than 200 events per year.
The park will be bordered by Broadway to the north and the shopping center to the south, Broadway Circle to the west and Fourth Avenue to the east.
"This is going to be a place for families to come, for concerts, farmer's markets, for civic gathering places. We're creating a place we wish we would have had in San Diego, now we're going to have it for generations to come," said Kevin Faulconer, San Diego City Council president pro tem.
Former governor Pete Wilson also served as mayor of San Diego in the 1970s. He was instrumental in the revitalization of downtown decades ago, and he said this project exceeded his expectations.
"If you're honored and privileged to serve in public office, you know you're part of a continuum," Wilson said. "What you hope is the things you've been able to begin, be carried on and improved and that's what's happened here."
"This is going to be for our citizens, this is going to be for our tourists, this is going to be for all of us," Mayor-elect Bob Filner told several hundred people on hand for a special event to mark the beginning of demolition.
Gary Smith, an advocate for downtown residents, said the area's population has ballooned from 7,000 a couple of decades ago to around 40,000 now, and they need activities.
According to Westfield, which will manage the park and book the events, potential events include concerts, summer movie series, block parties, cultural festivals and holiday celebrations.
I think it's great. It's a dead area. When people drive through, they must be thinking what's going on with the city here?" said resident, Robert Belciano.
The project is a private-public partnership, funded with redevelopment money and money from Westfield.
"The square must be restored to meet the needs of downtown's growing population and reclaim its historic role as a regional destination for San Diegans and future generations," Faulconer said.
Outgoing Mayor Jerry Sanders said the park should provide an economic boost for the whole area.
The park, one of the final projects created by the city's now-shuttered Redevelopment Agency, is expected to open in the spring of 2014.