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Proposed 196-room Hotel and 127-unit Condominium in Downtown
 Escondido, California Faces Building Height and Parking Concerns

By Quinn Eastman, North County Times, Escondido, Calif.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Feb. 23, 2006 - ESCONDIDO ---- The developer of a hotel and condominium complex proposed for downtown Escondido faced some of the project's critics at the city's public library Wednesday morning.

Speaking to a crowd of about 50 people, La Jolla-based developer Craig Clark presented the latest designs for his proposed Marriott hotel that would be built between City Hall and the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. The project also includes an eight-story condominium and parking structure across the street from the hotel on Valley Parkway, in what is now a public parking lot.

Since city officials and Clark announced plans for the project two years ago, some downtown business owners have criticized the proposed 85-foot-high condo building as too tall, and said that the development could make parking downtown more difficult, especially during its 18 months of construction.

Clark plans to bring the project to city officials for approval in the next two months, beginning with the Design Review Board today and finishing with the City Council in April.

Much of Wednesday morning's discussion, sponsored by the Downtown Business Association, focused on the future supply of parking for the public, condo residents, and hotel employees and guests.

Clark set the tone for the discussion by invoking President Harry Truman's adage that "the buck stops here," to emphasize he is entirely responsible for what his company builds.

While the meeting tone was generally polite, the questioning acquired a sharp edge at times, particularly during an exchange between Clark and downtown property owner and developer James Crone. At one point, Clark responded to Crone's concerns over parking by saying, "We will just have to agree to disagree. It's clear to me and to people here that you don't want me to do this deal."

Crone replied that the project should be designed "so that everybody in Escondido benefits, not just Craig Clark."

A longtime resident and commercial developer in Escondido, Crone built and owns the Signature Theatres complex a block west of the proposed hotel. Early in the meeting, he said he generally supported the hotel project as a boost to downtown business activity.

However, he and a group of downtown property and business owners say that they have amassed $30,000 for consultants to challenge the city's environmental analysis of the hotel and condo project, particularly the study's conclusions on parking and traffic.

And Crone has said that he worries the public will use parking spaces at his center if the issue isn't addressed.

The proposed 127-unit condominium and 196-room hotel would eliminate two public parking lots on Valley Parkway that now provide 194 spaces.

The existing spaces would be replaced by 233 slots that would be reserved for the public in a four-level parking garage under the condo complex. The garage would also provide 254 spaces reserved for residents, Clark said.

While the garage would ultimately replace the public parking places, critics have predicted a parking crunch during the construction period that would drive away customers who frequent downtown shops and restaurants.

The hotel also would have two levels of underground parking, with its 209 spaces reserved for hotel guests and employees. Condo residents would be able to use the hotel's pool and health club, Clark said.

Some hotel parking would be available to the public during the day, but probably would not be free. However, hotel visitors could get their parking validated by coming to events or eating in its restaurant, Clark said.

"We're going to use every trick in the book to bring people in, especially in those first few years," he said.

Clark said he believed many hotel employees wouldn't need to use the underground garage because many of them would live in Escondido, use mass transit, get rides or walk to work.

Crone countered that if hotel employees are forced to walk several blocks, they will choose to work somewhere else.

Escondido architect Ken Erickson said he thought that the 85-foot height of the condo building would clash with the historical character of downtown Escondido, which has mostly one- and two-story buildings. He also said it was "disingenuous" of Clark to describe the condo project as one whose single commercial component ---- a 2,900-square-foot retail store at the corner of Maple and Valley Parkway ---- would increase street traffic.

Clark responded by saying that he had wanted more retail, but that space limitations made it impractical. The outside of the parking structure, he said, could provide display areas for local businesses.

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To see more of the North County Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.nctimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, North County Times, Escondido, Calif.

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