Ideas differ, but most agree: Del Mar City Hall should be cultural, civic center

Del Mar City Hall
(Kristina Houck)

Community members had the opportunity to chat with the team that is designing Del Mar’s new city hall during a meet-and-greet May 4 outside city hall.

“This is about city hall, town hall,” said Mayor Al Corti when he welcomed the crowd. “It’s more than just an administrative building for our employees, it’s a community facility. Your input, thoughts and ideas into the process are invaluable.”

Seeking the community’s input, The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP, held the public forum to give community members a chance to get to know the design team, ask questions and make comments. Consultants from environmental firm RECON Environmental Inc. and landscape architecture firm Spurlock Poirier were also in attendance.

“This is a really great chance to get to know the neighbors,” said Mike Jobes, principal with The Miller Hull Partnership. “We’re coming into a process that’s been going on for so many decades. We want to know the people that are behind this and really get to know them before we even set pen to paper.”

About 60 people were in attendance when the two-hour event kicked off at 5 p.m. Nearby neighbors had an opportunity to meet the design team an hour earlier at 4 p.m.

With offices in San Diego and Seattle, The Miller Hull Partnership has designed several local projects, including community buildings for San Ysidro Port of Entry and National City’s Pier 32 Marina, and campus buildings at San Diego Mesa College and UC San Diego. The firm has also worked on six civic center buildings in small Pacific Northwest communities.

Poster boards with images and information about the firm’s previous projects were on display.

Looking at the images, resident Bud Emerson said he was concerned the new city hall would look too modern.

“I really don’t like what looks like industrial chic to me,” he said. “It’s too much of an architectural statement as opposed to a community statement. I just hope they can figure us out, because I think city hall should say really clearly what our simple values are.”

Emerson and his wife, Mary Ann Emerson, said the design team should look to the Del Mar Library as an example.

The library, which celebrated its centennial last year, is housed in St. James Catholic Church’s former building. The building first opened its doors in 1914.

“I love the architecture of the library,” Mary Ann Emerson added. “Why can’t we have a city hall that looks like that — that lovely building? I don’t think that we need to have ultra-modern structures in this small community. I think that that architecture really fits the size of our town.”

Some residents want to use the city’s space to bring Del Mar’s first house back to the community.

Built in 1885, the Alvarado House was given to the Del Mar Historical Society in 1985, when the new owner decided to build a bigger home on the lot at the foot of 10th Street, where the 600-square-foot home sat for a century. It was moved to the city hall parking lot for four years, and then relocated to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, where it’s been since 1989.

Today, the house largely remains locked up and unused at the fairgrounds, except when it opens to the public for tours during the annual county fair.

“I’d really like to see the Alvarado House brought back to town,” said Lynn Gaylord, a member of the Historical Society. “It’s over on the fairgrounds property, and it doesn’t belong there.”

“I want the Alvarado House back,” agreed Tensia Trejo, also a member of the society.

Historical society members hope the house would sit on the southwest corner of the property. It would be renamed the Del Mar History Museum and serve as both a historical museum and visitor information center.

“It’s time to come home,” said Larry Brooks, president of the Historical Society.

“It would be where the past meets the present and plans for the future,” added Gaylord.

Del Mar artist Juliette Milner said the property should have a place for performing arts events.

“We need a cultural hub,” she said.

Resident Betty Wheeler said she would like the town hall to be available and large enough for community events. A volunteer with the Del Mar Foundation, she often plans events that are too large to be accommodated by spaces such as the Powerhouse Community Center.

“It would be great to have the ability to have a larger audience for community events, as well as civic functions,” she said.

Attendees wrote down their ideas and hung them up along the fencing at the city’s current facilities at 1050 Camino del Mar. In addition to relocating the Alvarado House, other suggestions were keeping the Del Mar Farmers Market, planting an organic garden, installing outdoor seating, maintaining views, and offering indoor and outdoor activities for kids, teens and seniors.

Although a variety of amenities were suggested, overall, community members agreed they want the new city hall to be a civic and cultural center.

“I would like to see a community center that can be used by all of the community and engages people in fun, community activities,” said KC Vafiadis, a Del Mar native and commercial property owner. “We need something that brings us together.”

Council members reflected on the community’s input during the council meeting that followed the event.

“I really think that there’s a great desire to meld civic activity, civic involvement with the outdoor feel, the outdoor appreciation of where we are,” said Councilman Terry Sinnott.

Since Del Mar initiated the city hall planning process in June 2013, the council has discussed the project at dozens of council meetings, held three public workshops, and issued a citywide survey and online poll.

In January, the council appointed five community members to an ad hoc design team selection committee. David Arnold, William Cecil, Dennis Cruzan, Lewis Dominy and Pat JaCoby worked with council liaisons Corti and Councilman Don Mosier to review statements of qualifications to select a design team for the project.

The committee narrowed the initial list of 14 architectural firms to three teams. After reviewing proposals and hearing presentations, the committee selected The Miller Hull Partnership.

Jobes said his team was “really encouraged” by the meet-and-greet turnout.

“We do these types of projects often, and often times, it can be a struggle to get people to participate,” he said. “Today, we saw so many people out, ready to talk about this with us. It was an exciting moment to see that happen.

“We’re feeling really good about plugging into a process that’s been going on for a long time at a point in time where the momentum is moving forward.”

The design team plans to continue working closely with the community on the initial concept and schematic phase of the project.

An open house is scheduled for 5-6 p.m. June 1 in front of Del Mar TV Studios, where The Miller Hull Partnership will present initial design ideas and concept plan options. Community input will be welcome at the event, which takes place before the 6 p.m. council meeting.

“We’re going to come back with three big ideas — three ways that we think this could work,” Jobes said. “It’s on us to believe that any one of the three could work.”

After receiving feedback, The Miller Hull Partnership will present its preferred concept at the June 15 council meeting.

“We’re off to a good start,” Mosier said. “Most of the comments I saw were positive, productive comments, so I think we do have momentum and we don’t want to lose it.”