The City and County of San Diego have partnered with a private group to restore a central park and create a new, central gathering place in Downtown San Diego. The plan calls for an urban plaza to be constructed near the current historic plaza.

“Today we embark on a project that will create an iconic multi-use space for visitors and residents from throughout San Diego County,” said San Diego City Council President Pro Tem Kevin L. Faulconer, who represents the downtown community. “It has been apparent for quite some time that Horton Plaza Park needed a makeover. ”

During the groundbreaking ceremony, speakers celebrated the past, present and future of both Horton Plaza Park, which once served as a place where people gathered to celebrate the Fourth of July and hear presidents speak, and the Horton Plaza shopping center, which sparked the original redevelopment of downtown in the early 1980s.

This dynamic history was acknowledged at the groundbreaking through the unveiling of a plaque to honor former San Diego Mayor and California Governor Pete Wilson and others who played a significant role not only in the new urban plaza, but also in the original development and revitalization of downtown.

Known as “Horton’s Heroes,” honorees included Mayor Jerry Sanders; the San Diego City Council; downtown San Diego founder Alonzo Horton; fountain designer Irving Gill; Hahn Company representatives Ernest Hahn and John Gilchrist, who helped develop the Horton Plaza shopping center; Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) representatives Frank Alessi, Pamela Hamilton and Gerald Trimble; former San Diego City Councilmember Leon Williams; and Westfield, owner of the Horton Plaza shopping center.

In addition, downtown stakeholders were on-hand to dedicate a time capsule representing the community’s culture in 2012, as well as Horton Plaza’s long history. Several items were placed in the vessel, which will be buried at the new urban plaza and unearthed by future generations of San Diegans in 50 years.

“The construction of this world-class facility represents the next phase of a long tradition that has made downtown San Diego the vibrant destination it is today,” said Mayor Jerry Sanders. “The project will provide an economic boost to the surrounding area, continue the redevelopment that began four decades ago and ensure that Horton Plaza Park remains an exciting part of San Diego’s bright future.”

The San Diego City Council unanimously voted in favor of the new urban plaza in January 2011. As part of the approved plan, Westfield agreed to demolish the former Robinsons-May/Planet Hollywood building at the Horton Plaza shopping center, transfer ownership of that land to the City, and maintain and actively program the park for 25 years. The project will also restore and beautify the existing park and fountain adjacent to the property.

“Westfield is proud to partner with the City on a project that will honor the storied history of the Horton Plaza area as a catalyst for economic growth and success in downtown,” said Jerry Engen, Senior Vice President of Development for The Westfield Group in San Diego. “We are committed to helping create, maintain and activate a world-class urban plaza that will provide residents and visitors alike with the opportunity to enjoy more than 200 events each year that will celebrate our diverse cultural, spiritual and community traditions.”

Demolition of the former Robinsons-May/Planet Hollywood building began at the groundbreaking ceremony and will continue over the next few months. Construction of the new urban plaza, which was designed through a robust public process, is expected to begin in April 2013, with project completion scheduled for spring 2014.