Major changes and upgrades unveiled for Del Mar Highlands

More parking, restaurants and even a covered outdoor escalator are coming to the Del Mar Highlands Town Center. Specific details of the center’s upgrade were revealed at the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board meeting June 8.

More updates are expected to come throughout the summer, such as which San Diego restaurants are coming to Carmel Valley.

Elizabeth Schreiber, general manager of the center, said that community input drove their planning. Through comments on their website and market research at the center, they learned that overwhelmingly the top priorities were improved parking and traffic circulation, a better variety of restaurants and improved gathering places.

Schreiber said their plans hit on all of those requests. The most significant change is coming to the center’s amphitheater, which Schreiber described in its current state as an “oversupply of concrete.”

The stadium steps will be removed and replaced with six small food services, such as cupcakes, coffee and gelato or soft-serve yogurt.

“Things you look for when you go to meet a friend,” Schreiber said.

None of the current amphitheater space will be lost, as a second story will be extended out on top of the six new spaces. This area will be accessible via the escalator, a new staircase and an elevator inside a clock tower.

On the upstairs plaza they are considering adding shade structures and heaters, a fireplace, fountains and living room-style comfortable seating. New outdoor gathering places will also be created in front of Starbucks and Einstein Brothers Bagels — more spots to grab a meal or a coffee and meet a friend.

Panda Express and Daphne’s will relocate to where Einstein Bros. Bagels is, freeing up the area near Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza to have five full service sit-down restaurants. Schreiber said they are working on signing leases with top San Diego eateries in Mexican, Italian and rotisserie chicken fare.

“They are names you know,” Schreiber hinted, saying she will reveal more as soon as leases are finalized.

Quiznos and Panda Express are being relocated to the more fast-food centric area of the center, near Rubio’s and McDonald’s. Its proximity to Torrey Pines High School is not an accident as Schreiber said the center gets a lot of teen visitors. The area where Quiznos used to be will focus on “fast-casual” eateries — they will add several spots that offer very healthy, organic and locally grown fare.

The corner of the center where the Warehouse used to be is going to be completely remodeled to accommodate a “high-end” signature restaurant for Carmel Valley.

“This will be the place to which all the gentlemen will take their wives,” Schreiber said, noting people will recognize this name as well.

Also being completely remodeled will be the movie theater. After a nation-wide search of theater operators, Del Mar Highlands decided to stick with UltraStar Cinemas.

UltraStar will close in January 2011 for about five or six months for renovations to take the theater to the “luxury level.” Schreiber said every finish will be new, with new seats, flooring, wall coverings — even new bathroom fixtures. Where the average movie theater seat is 19 inches wide, the new seats will be 24 inches wide with a roomy 48 inches between every moviegoer and the seat in front of them.

“I think our theater will be the best in San Diego,” Schreiber said.

To help improve parking lot flow and offer more easy access to spaces, the buildings that housed Del Mar Florals and Quiznos will be knocked down to create access to all the parking at the back of the center. The opening will become a “pleasant pedestrian experience” with awnings, landscaping and decorative lighting fixtures.

The center has found an additional 95 parking stalls they will be adding to the 1,500 already there. The new stalls will be on the outskirts around the center, such as behind Rite Aid, Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, and will seek to cater to employees.

“By giving employees more places to park, it frees up space for customers,” Schreiber said. One parking stall will be removed in the area of the Chevron gas station and detailing center to help ease a corner that causes a lot of traffic problems.

To help improve circulation, the center plans to better enhance all of its six entrance points with monuments to take pressure off the two main entrances at lights on El Camino Real and Del Mar Heights. The exit near Kindercare will also become an entrance instead of just an exit only. Some architectural improvements will also be made to existing Del Mar Highlands buildings to give them more of a “San Diego” feel.

Work on the parking lot improvements should begin by summer. The rest of the renovations will be phased and an announcement on the phasing plan is set to come by fall, Schreiber said.