Construction starts on Mission Valley’s Riverwalk, now a $4B project

Decades in the making, construction on the 195-acre, mixed-use Riverwalk development in Mission Valley is now underway with a portion of the project — 930 apartment homes, 75,000 square feet of retail shops and improvements to Friars Road — expected to be completed by early 2025.

Wednesday, local dignitaries and project executives commemorated the achievement with a ceremonial groundbreaking event at 1150 Fashion Valley Rd. The occasion comes nearly two years after San Diego’s City Council signed off on the now $4 billion project that will eventually replace the Riverwalk Golf Club.

“Today marks the start of San Diego’s next great neighborhood,” said Pete Shearer, who is a director with Houston-based real estate developer Hines. “We have an opportunity, with the size of this site, to create something that San Diego hasn’t seen yet, and that is a place open to the public, that is designed … for the pedestrian and is activated by retail on all sides. It’s the perfect project for a post-COVID world.”

Riverwalk San Diego, as the project is called, hails from Hines and longtime land owner, the Levi-Cushman family. The partners teamed on the current plan in 2017 after two previous redevelopment efforts, dating to 1987, fell through. Hines also brought in the investment firm USAA Real Estate at the start of the year to help finance the first phase of construction, which is estimated to cost $500,000.

At build-out in 15 years, the full development will produce 4,300 apartments and condos, 152,000 square feet of retail stores and 1 million square feet of office space, with uses split among four districts and bisected by the trolley line and a downtown-style main street. The project also calls for 97 acres of parks, open space and trails, with bikeways and pedestrian walkways that follow the project’s portion of the San Diego River Pathway.

Riverwalk San Diego's groundbreaking ceremony
Riverwalk San Diego’s groundbreaking ceremony was attended by local dignitaries and project executives, including San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria.

Pictured from left to right: David Rubin; USAA Real Estate Senior Director, Investments Greg Levitan; Hines Director Pete Shearer; Hines West Region CEO Douglas Metzler; Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Nathan Fletcher; Hines Managing Director Eric Hepfer; San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria; San Diego City Councilperson Raul Campillo; California Assemblymember Christopher Ward; Steve Cushman; and former San Diego City Councilperson Scott Sherman.

(Courtesy, Hines)

To start, Hines will replace the golf course’s shuttered northern, nine-hole course with 930 market-rate units spread across five buildings, up to 85 feet tall, along Friars Road. The residential units will range from studios to townhomes up to 1,600 square feet in size.

The initial phase includes around half of the project’s retail footprint with space for a neighborhood grocery store alongside restaurants, bars and fitness studios. In addition, the developer is making immediate improvements to Friars Road, including new bike lanes, sidewalks, smart signals and landscaped medians.

Riverwalk’s first phase of development includes 1,395 parking spaces for residents, or 1.5 spaces per unit, and a 600-space garage for the retail center.

However, one of the development’s key features, a new transit station for the trolley’s green line, built at the developer’s expense, promises to eventually get more people out of their cars, linking homes to jobs and recreation opportunities — both on site and off. Construction of the trolley stop is still in flux as Hines explores financing options, Shearer said.

“Riverwalk is truly a poster child for smart growth … and it will influence how we do business in other parts of our city. And yes, it does warm my YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) heart to see what Hines is doing on this important piece of property,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said during the ceremonial event. “This is a poster child because you see that transit line right there. The taxpayers of this community have already invested billions of dollars to create that resource, and we need to make the most of it. We have to get every nickel that we’ve invested into this system out of it to our collective benefit.”

The project, he said, also addresses some of San Diego’s pressing housing challenges.

“Bringing on this (amount) of housing at one location, and knowing that it’s part of other large projects that are coming together in our city at this time, gives people not just something to break ground on; this is really about giving people a sense of hope,” Gloria said. “A hope, that in this city, that if you’re willing to work hard and be a part of this community, we will make a place for you here.”

Although not included in the phase-one totals, the developer is working with affordable housing partner Wakeland Housing and Development Corporation to erect around 100 subsidized units for low-income families in a separate building along Friars Road. Construction on the affordable units is anticipated to begin in the next two years, a spokesperson for the developer said.

The developer is required, as a condition of its agreement with the city, to set aside a total of 430 units for people making 65 percent or less of the area median income. The median income for a family of four in San Diego is $106,900.

Riverwalk retail and trolley rendering

A rendering of Riverwalk’s central retail area, which will connect to a future, on-site transit stop. Timing of the trolley station is still in flux.

(Courtesy, Gensler)

The development also comes with a number of community perks — although most are slated for future phases. For instance, the initial phase will introduce around two acres of park space in the center of the project’s retail area, whereas construction of the 60-acre regional park surrounding the San Diego River and south of the trolley stop, is still seven to 10 years away, Shearer said.

Riverwalk San Diego comes amid a period of rapid growth in Mission Valley, a renaissance made possible, in part, by the community plan approved in 2019. The 30-year framework creates room for 50,000 additional residents and 7 million more square feet of commercial development.

Already, developer Holland Partner Group has completed three of the four apartment towers at The Society, an 840-unit project opposite the golf course on a 10-acre site formerly owned by the Town and Country Resort. And San Diego State University’s Mission Valley campus, already home to the just-opened Snapdragon Stadium, includes space for 4,600 residential units, 80 acres of parks and open space, 1.6 million square feet of office and research space, 400 hotel rooms and 95,000 square feet of campus shops.

Riverwalk San Diego’s initial construction will not impact the remaining 18-hole course at the Riverwalk Golf Course south of the phase-one site. The golf course will remain open for an estimated two to three years after the completion of the initial phase, the developer said.

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