San Diego officials are trying to create a cultural hub for the local Black community by designating eight blocks on Imperial Avenue in Encanto as the San Diego Black Arts & Culture District.
Like Little Italy north of downtown and the Asian-dominated Convoy District in Kearny Mesa, the new district could become home to businesses focused on Black arts, food, music and other parts of the culture.
“An arts district has the potential to help us attract more businesses, more cultural organizations, events and tourism to this area, while not forgetting who we are and who got us here,” said Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe.
Former San Diego Councilmembers George Stevens and Charles Lewis began calling this part of southeastern San Diego “Gaslamp East” two decades ago, but Montgomery Steppe said city officials failed to take the actions necessary to make that happen.
“This designation will help us deliver that promise,” she said. “As we recover from the pandemic, I have directed my focus on the resiliency and recovery of our historically underserved and underresourced communities, especially regarding the preservation and re-activation of spaces that have been ignored for far too long.”
The district will be bounded on the west by Imperial Avenue at 61st Street, on the north by Chollas Creek, on the east by Imperial Avenue at 69th Street, and on the south by the alley south of Imperial Avenue.
The City Council’s economic development committee gave the district an initial approval Wednesday. The full council is expected to give a final approval this spring.
Shirley Weber, California’s secretary of state and previously a local member of the Assembly, said Wednesday that the new district can be a reminder of when San Diego was known as the Harlem of the West because so many Black performers visited here.
“This is going to revitalize us,” Weber said. “It will teach our children who we are and why we are.”
Dajahn Blevins, executive director of nonprofit Urban Warriors, said the new district will become the epicenter of Black culture for local residents and tourists.
“When my family comes and visits from Atlanta and they say ‘hey, take us to the spot,’ now we’ve got a spot,” he said.
The district was envisioned by a new neighborhood blueprint for Encanto that the City Council adopted in 2016. The blueprint, known as a community plan update, called for public art along Imperial Avenue and designating some buildings historical.
Montgomery Steppe said creating the district will make the area eligible for city, state and federal funds to support economic development, infrastructure and arts initiatives.
The move also allows the community to work with Caltrans to pursue freeway signs alerting drivers to the new district.